After coming tantalizingly close to a huge upset at Zion-Benton on Wednesday night, Warren's girls basketball players could have hung their heads and muttered about what might have been. Instead, with heads held high, the Blue Devils wondered aloud what still might be.
Warren (5-14, 1-6) hung tough with the Zee-Bees (15-3, 7-0) all night in the North Suburban Conference Lake contest, finally succumbing 57-55 in overtime after Zion's Auri Hampton sank a pair of free throws with 3.7 seconds remaining following a crucial turnover by the Blue Devils.
The upset-minded visitors had gained a 49-47 lead with 9.1 seconds to play in regulation on two free throws by senior guard Hailey Leinart (game-high 15 points), but Zion's Mia Yarbrough scored from close range with three seconds to go to send it to OT. Warren then rallied from a four-point deficit in the extra period to tie it at 55-55 on a 3-point play by senior forward Danielle Cassidy, but couldn't hang onto the ball in the final five seconds.
"I am so proud of the resilience we showed tonight," said Warren coach John Stanczykiewicz. "We just kept coming back over and over again and never gave up against a very good team. The games we have here with Zion are always very intense.
"I think we took a big step tonight. The seniors -- Leinart, (Kristen) O'Brien and Cassidy -- stepped up and played like seniors. I am so proud of them and of all the girls. They deserved a better result tonight than what they ended up with."
Sophomore guard Kylie Nedelka and junior guard Sammi Jo Nixon scored 9 points each for the Blue Devils, while O'Brien tallied 8 and freshman guard Rebekah Foley added 6.
Zion-Benton, which was led in scoring by Yarbrough and Tyvena Scafe with a dozen points each, used a 9-0 first-quarter run to halt a strong Warren start, then rattled off 8 points in a row in the second quarter to take a 23-18 lead. But just before the halftime buzzer, Leinart fired in a 3-pointer from 30 feet that spun around the rim and bounced off the backboard before going in.
"That was definitely not planned," Leinart said. "I just turned around and tossed it up there. I was very surprised that it went in."
In the third quarter, the Blue Devils stormed back from a 33-27 deficit with a 7-0 run featuring 5 points by O'Brien. Zion went up by 4 points early in the fourth quarter, but 3-pointers by O'Brien and Foley allowed Warren to move ahead 44-42 with 5:10 to play in regulation. Leinart's 3-point play with 1:50 to go tied the game at 47.
Warren's near miss at Zion was a big improvement over a 20-point loss to the Zee-Bees in early December.
"This time we played them much better and played with a lot more confidence," Leinart said.
"Even though we lost, we learned that we're capable of winning against a good team," O'Brien said. "We've got to work on being quicker and being more aggressive."
Stanczykiewicz said he saw a huge improvement over the last meeting with Zion.
"This time we handled their pressure a lot better and played with a lot more composure," he said. "We had a better sense of what they were going to bring and we were ready for it. Their size and aggressiveness beat us on the boards, but we battled hard tonight."