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Wheaton North knew all about Hillcrest's history of success in March. The Falcons didn't seem to care.
Wheaton North went toe to toe with Hillcrest and nearly walked away a winner, falling 99-92 in overtime Saturday afternoon at the 24th annual McDonald's Shootout in Villa Park.
"I'm bummed that we lost but I'm so proud of the way we fought," said Falcons senior Chrissy Baird, a UCLA commit who had 24 points, 11 rebounds and 8 steals before fouling out late in overtime. "We found a fight in ourselves today that we hadn't seen yet. I'm so proud of them and I can't wait to see where we go from here."
"Obviously, Hillcrest has a great history behind their program, and for us to come out and compete like that, play hard, it was a great game," Falcons coach Dave Eaton added. "Ninety-nine-92, you don't see a lot of high school games at that tempo and that speed. Our kids fought and their kids made some big plays inside."
Wheaton North led much of the second half, falling behind with 2:15 to play in the fourth quarter on a basket by Hillcrest's Tierra Sanders. But when the Hawks threatened to pull away, the Falcons' Emmy Gryna hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers down the stretch to keep Wheaton North close.
Hillcrest led 83-82 when Gryna stole a Hillcrest pass under the basket and was fouled going up for a lay-in with 2.3 seconds to go. She made 1 of 2 free throws to send the game to overtime.
"It was one of those cardiac-arrest moments," Hillcrest coach John Maniatis said. "You look back at the end there, coming back from an 8-point deficit in the fourth there, I thought our kids showed a tremendous amount of perseverance and hopefully this can help catapult us in the next couple of weeks toward a playoff run."
"I thought we made a great play not giving up and just giving ourselves a chance to get to overtime," Eaton said. "Emmy Gryna stepped up and made 1 out of 2, which was huge just to give us that opportunity to get there."
Wheaton North (12-7) got off to a great start in the extra period, with Kelly Thornton scoring off the overtime tip. Emily Barry added another basket, and Gryna, a sophomore, followed with another 3 to put Wheaton North ahead 90-85 with three minutes to go in overtime.
Then Hillcrest got hot. The Hawks (14-4) took the lead for good at 93-92 on a Tanzania Sherrill basket and finished the game on a 14-2 run.
Despite the defeat the Falcons showed they can play with one of the best teams in the state.
"Beyond a solid ballclub," Maniatis said of Wheaton North. "They're going to make some noise in the state playoffs. Their coaching staff does a tremendous job with their kids. You've got Baird; there's a reason why she's going to be a Pac-12 player. UCLA should be very happy to have her."
Wheaton North opted not to try to slow the pace against Hillcrest. In fact the Falcons pushed the basketball every chance they got.
"That's just sort of the way this team plays, is they like to get out. That's one of the faster teams we'll see, them and (Rolling) Meadows, and neither time we backed down. We came right after them and that might have surprised them just a little bit early and then they adjusted to it, did some good stuff. But our kids came right after them, and that's a great team. They're well-balanced, and that gets us hopefully even more ready for the postseason."
Thornton matched Baird's 24 points, Gryna scored 21 and Jones had 12 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Barry, a 5-6 senior, came down with 13 rebounds against the taller Hawks. She also added 8 points.
Sherrill and Shayla Joyner led all scorers with 26 points apiece.
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