Harvest Christian girls basketball coach Kelly Friestad knew it would take a monumental effort by her team to beat talent-laden Westminster Christian Monday afternoon in the final round of the Elgin City Classic.
But Friestad couldn't help but be proud of the way her team fought like the Lions they are.
Westminster continued its two-year dominance of the Elgin City Classic with a 60-41 win over Harvest. but instead of wilting after falling behind 23-7 at the end of the first quarter and 35-15 at halftime, the visiting Lions fought to the bitter end.
"The first half we dug ourselves a hole," Friestad said. "We had to have a mental check. We got down and frustrated. But I'm very proud of the way the girls fought back and that they didn't quit. They kept playing hard."
Westminster (18-2) used its size and speed to dominate the game early on. Sophomore Maddie Versluys scored 9 of her 15 points in the first quarter and the Warriors' smothering defense helped Harvest (9-8) to 8 turnovers.
"When we played them in our conference game (a 65-33 Westminster win on Dec. 7) they came out very aggressive so we wanted to be aggressive and play good defense today and we did that," said Westminster coach Ken Flickinger. "We wanted to run today and we did that."
The Warriors' defense was able to shut down Harvest junior Kylee Knox, the Fox Valley area's leading scorer. She did finish with 17 points, 3 under her average, but she scored just 4 in the first half.
"Our goal going in was to shut down Kylee Knox because she's a big component of their team,": said Westminster senior McKaila Hays. "We wanted to make sure our defense was on."
The Warriors, who had secured the Classic title with their win over Elgin on Friday, stretched the lead to 26, 45-19, midway through the third quarter, which allowed Flickinger to substitute freely and have his team work on things he figures they need to have in their arsenal when they enter the Class 2A postseason next month.
"We've been working on some new things and we had some kids in different roles in the second half," Flickinger said. "All in all I was pleased. It was a good opportunity to push their comfort zone a little."
Despite the big deficit, the Lions continued to battle. They scored the last 7 points of the third quarter, junior Alex Rayappa connecting for 5 of them, to trail 46-28 entering the fourth quarter. Westminster went on a 7-2 run to lead 53-30 with 5:05 to play when sophomore Rachel Oostdyk's basket started an 11-0 Harvest run that saw Knox bury 3 3-pointers in the next 2 ½ minutes to close the gap to 53-41 with 1:47 left. But senior Claire Speweik hit a 3-pointer and classmate Emma Anderson scored the game's final 5 points for the Warriors to provide the final margin.
Lockwood added 9 points and 8 rebounds for the Lions and Rayappa had 8 points.
"Different people are stepping up for us," Friestad said. "Rachel Oostdyk, the last five games, has been so much better. Morgan and Alex have been taking a lot of pressure off Kylee."
Hays added 13 points and Anderson had 10 for the Warriors, who had 15 steals as a team, led by Versluys' 4.
"In our locker room we have a bunch of goals," said Hays, who is now 37 points shy of becoming the third Westminster girl in program history to score 1,000 career points. "We've accomplished all of them so far. We won our conference and we won the Elgin City Classic. We've been working better as a team as the season goes on."
It's a season that now turns to the Northeastern Athletic Conference Tournament for both teams this weekend, and then the Warriors will play Schaumburg, St. Francis and Hampshire before the postseason.
"It's great the way the schedule sets up for us," Flickinger said. "We'll have to bring our A game if we want to be competitive in the regional at IC (Catholic Prep). They have a really nice basketball team."
Larkin 73, Elgin Academy 12: Victoria Patterson scored 17 points and Alyssa McGhee added 15 as Larkin (7-13) secured second place in the Elgin City Classic. Marlee Kyles added 14 points for the Royals and Haley Casebeer had 10. Kaitlyn Pearson scored 9 points for Elgin Academy (3-9).
NAC Tournament: Westminster Christian and Harvest Christian will co-host the NAC Tournament this weekend. Games will begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday at each site and continue Saturday, with the championship game scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Westminster. The Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the tournament with the remainder of the seeds to be finalized this week.
Keep 'em coming: Burlington Central, which upgraded its schedule this year to include the Dundee-Crown Christmas Tournament as well as a game against Class 4A power Fremd in the McDonald's Shootout, has added Montini, the No. 1 team in Class 3A and in the Daily Herald Top 20, to the slate for the next two years. BC athletic director Steve Diversey said next year's game will be at Montini in late January or early February and the Broncos will travel to Rocket Hill the following season.