First place was on the line in the Central Suburban North on Friday night in Des Plaines when Maine West hosted Maine East in girls basketball.
The 26-time conference champion Warriors were playing a Blue Demons team that has never won a league crown but is off to its best start in 20 seasons.
"I don't think we were intimidated by that," Warriors 5-foot-4 senior guard Erin Ross said of the Blue Demons' 10-4 and 3-0 record entering the game. "If anything, it fueled us. We were intense and really wanted to win bad."
Ross sure helped fuel the Warriors, connecting for four 3-pointers, en route to a career high 16 points, as West pulled away in the second half to a 47-26 victory.
All-time leading Maine West scorer Brittany Collins added 15 points and 12 rebounds as the Warriors improved to 11-6 and 5-0 in the CSL North.
"It's huge," Ross said of the win that gave Warriors' sole possession of first place. "But we've still got to go to their place at the end of the season. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
West's defense crossed up the Blue Demons' offense on Friday, limiting the visitors to under 30 points for the first time all season and under double digits in every quarter.
"Maine West is very good and a well-coached team," said Maine East coach Karol Hanusiak. "We scored 26 points. We average 40 a game so they took it to us on defense and stopped us from doing the things we needed to do."
Warriors Hall of Fame coach Derril Kipp, in his 33rd season, immediately pointed to defense as the key in his team's success against an East team that is 7 wins away from the school record.
"We played pretty good defense," he said. "(Shaylee) Sloan is really a good player for them and their guards are quick. We had a game plan to try and stop that. The girls listened and did their jobs.
"Offensively, when they went into the 2-3 zone, we tried to slow it down and work the ball for a good shot. Erin hit her shots and Abbey Herling (4 rebounds, 3 steals, 5 points) did a good job rebounding."
Sophomore Monica Liwag (3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal) made her first start for West.
Ross' first 3-pointer gave the hosts a 7-2 lead. Her second made it 14-9 with eight seconds left in the first quarter and her third put West ahead 19-14 with 1:57 left in the half.
The 5-7 Herling followed with back-to-back rebound layups that gave West a 23-16 lead with 12 seconds left in the half.
"Those two putbacks kind of set the tone for us," Kipp said.
After a steal and layup by Janell Alba-Garver got East to within 24-20 with 6:31 left in the third quarter, West put the game away with an 18-0 run.
Ross' final 3-pointer made it 29-20.
"It always feels great to hit a 3-pointer," Ross said. "I was just feeling it tonight. I can keep shooting them because I know my team will support me with the rebounds."
Kayla Pociejewski came off the bench and hit a 16-footer to make it 31-20.
A bucket by Collins and driving 14-foot bank shot by Ross put West ahead 35-20 after three quarters.
"Our goal was to hold Brittany Collins to 15 points or under and we did," Hanusiak said. "So "I'm proud of our kids for that. But when Maria ((Protic, a 6-foot senior post) got in foul trouble we had to go to the 2-3 zone. I knew that would hurt us and it did (West went on its i18-0 run)."
Sophomore guard Jazlene Gonzalez led the Blue Demons with 8 points while Sloan, a 5-11 senior post, chipped in 8.
"We talked to the girls about this being just one game," Hanusiak said. "Yeah, we would have liked to have won. But we'll see them again at home.
"We know we can play better. But we first we have to focus on our nine games before then. If we want a piece of the conference title, we've got to take care of everything before Feb. 14."
West took care of business with the inside play of Collins and Julia Huinker (4 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 points) and outside play of their guards, including Ross' career-high four 3-pointers .
"I worked a lot on shooting the in the off-season," said Ross, who also runs cross country and plays softball while keeping a 3.9 GPA in advanced placement classes. "I was hoping to be more open this season and to get my shots off quicker."