A total team effort, along with collective composure down the stretch, made all the difference for Mundelein's girls basketball team in their own Holiday Classic title game.
The Mustangs won the tournament for the second time in its nine-year existence on Saturday night, as Mundelein outlasted Grayslake North 62-57.
Maggie Mahar led the Mustangs in scoring with 20 points and dropped in 4 three-pointers, while Natalie Busscher added 18 and Jamie Hemmer chipped in 12.
"We do work as a total team, and it has been getting better," Busscher said. "At the beginning of the season, we struggled with it and now we've come together. We just talk about it all the time in practice -- to be a team -- and it's a work in progress."
That progress is evident, as Mundelein (10-5) has already matched its win from last year after completing a 4-0 tournament run. While Grayslake North dropped to 8-6 overall after finishing 3-1 at Mundelein.
"It does feel good, and I'm happy the kids did it," Mundelein coach Brian Evans said. "These girls have been working hard at it. The kids are starting to learn what it's like to win. "
The Mustangs built a 10-point lead in the third quarter but saw it disappear in the fourth. They recovered in time to take over the game in the final portions of the fourth quarter.
Mundelein's performance at the foul line was key. The Mustangs made 13 of 17 in the final quarter and finished 20-for-25 in the game.
"For the first time this year, we took it back and increased the lead," Evans said. "We thought it would come down to a block-out or free throw shooting. We wanted to make more free throws than the other team shoots."
Grayslake North was hampered by foul trouble in the second half and had to make do without three of its starters at times. But Kendall Detweiler certainly answered the challenge, scoring 24 of her game-high 29 points, including four 3-pointers, in the second half.
"We were hoping we could keep her under 50," Evans said. "There's a reason why she's the leading scorer of her school. It's not by accident. We didn't want to give the easy ones."
Maher hit a couple of treys of her own, along with a couple free throws, to help bring the Mustangs back from a 40-36 deficit. Her efforts was part of a 16-3 run which put Mundelein ahead 52-43 with 3:36 left.
"We were working really hard on defense and got a lot of stops," Mahar said. "We work hard on offense to get people open. My teammates are the ones that get me open, with screens."
Mundelein held off a late push from the Knights in the final minute. Grayslake North got no closer than 5 points.
The Mustangs got off to a good start and led 15-8 at the end of the opening quarter.
They led 25-17 at the half after scoring the last 6 points in the second quarter.
Mundelein extended its lead to 31-21 on a Busscher short jumper with 4:32 left in the third quarter and saw the Knights recover to tie the game 36-36 entering the fourth quarter.