As the wins have piled up this season, so too have the expectations for the Naperville North girls basketball program. That's why Saturday's gut-wrenching loss to Naperville Central hurt so much.
The host Huskies took to the court fresh off a come-from-behind win at West Aurora on Thursday that had boosted their record to 12-6 overall and 4-2 in the DuPage Valley Conference. The Redhawks, meanwhile, made the short trek across town with a 5-13 mark and found themselves staring at a 46-40 deficit midway through the fourth quarter.
But senior guard Shannon Ryan helped spark the Redhawks to a thrilling 52-50 win by scoring 14 of her team-leading 23 points during a fourth-quarter rally.
Ryan's three-point play tied the game at 50-50 with 27 seconds to play, then she converted a Huskies turnover into the winning basket, a short floater off a feed from Hannah Swarm with 5.2 seconds left.
"We don't always excel in high-pressure games, but in this one we did," said Ryan, who had a clutch 3 in the fourth quarter and also made 6 of 7 foul shots in the game. "We came out and showed people who we are. Not necessarily because we played well, but it was one of our better games because we were under pressure and we didn't crumple under it. We excelled in it for once. So I'm really proud our my team for that."
Naperville North was slowed by foul trouble much of the game, especially Kayla Sharples, who fouled out with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter after tallying just 7 points. Sharples sat the entire second quarter with two fouls, but the Huskies actually chopped an 18-10 deficit after one quarter to just 24-23 at the half as Laurel Pereira stepped up big time.
Pereira connected on three straight 3s in the second quarter on her way to five total treys and a personal-high 24 points. Olivia Stapleton also knocked down a shot from beyond the arc and Cece Pope had 9 points and 10 rebounds off the bench for Naperville North.
But in the end, Naperville Central had just enough to pull out the victory. Haley Minick scored 10 points and pulled in 7 rebounds, Emily Kraft had 8 points, and Katie Moran's tough defense helped limit Sharples well below her scoring average.
"Naperville North's a good team," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said. "They were 4-2 in the league and 12-6 coming in … they're looking at a top-four sectional seed, I think. So you beat a team like that, that's a big-time accomplishment for us."
The Huskies, meanwhile, hope to learn from Saturday's setback.
"We've been playing really well lately and we've won a couple big games," Naperville North coach Jason Dycus said. "I think we just have to learn how this feels and let it spur you on that you have to practice hard and work hard for what you want in life. We have full belief in those girls that are in that locker room."
Dycus said the players' pain indicates a shift for the program, a shift from some seasons where they maybe didn't expect to win against top programs.
"As disappointed as we are, we feel like we are in a position where people expect us to win … and that's a good position to be in," he said. "We want expectations in our program. We welcome that."