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When it comes to crunchtime in big games, Division I athletes have a tendency to shine -- even if the game is in a sport different from the one said athlete will be playing in college.
South Elgin senior standout Savanah Uveges, who will play soccer on scholarship at Nebraska, proved again she's a pretty good basketball player, too, on Saturday as she led her team to a thrilling 47-43 come-from-behind win over U-46 rival Bartlett in a key Upstate Eight Conference Valley Division girls basketball game at South Elgin.
The win, the Storm's seventh straight, puts them in a position to contend for the Valley title for the first time. At 7-1 in the division South Elgin (15-6 overall) stands poised to challenge league leader and state-ranked Neuqua Valley twice this coming week. South Elgin will be in a must-win situation when it travels to Naperville Tuesday, weather permitting. Neuqua comes to South Elgin next Saturday.
"I said at the beginning of the year this team has a chance to be the best since I've been here," said seventh-year Storm coach Tim Prendergast. "We've been flying under the radar a little and that's fine, but now we have an opportunity to win the conference."
Uveges scored a game-high 19 points and added 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists as South Elgin stormed back from an 8-point deficit midway through the third quarter to put together a 23-11 run the rest of the way.
"I was a little worried in the third quarter when (Bartlett) got that eight-point lead," Prendergast said. "Last time we played them they hit eight 3s and we didn't stop them. I don't know, maybe I'm getting smarter, but tonight I called timeout and just said no more 3s."
And no more 3-pointers is exactly what the South Elgin defense gave up, clamping down on Bartlett's guards with authority while the Storm offense kicked it into gear.
Trailing 32-24 after Bartlett (13-9, 7-2) sophomore Kaitlin Brohan hit the Hawks' fourth and final trey of the game with 4:09 left in the third, South Elgin used an inside bucket from senior Kennede Miller, who also hit a big 3 earlier in the third quarter to keep her team within striking distance, to start a 9-2 run that saw the Storm pull to within 1, 34-33, by the end of the period. Uveges added two baskets within 22 seconds of each other during the spurt.
After sophomore Nicole Gerdevich scored 55 seconds into the fourth quarter to put the Hawks on top 36-33, Storm junior Laura McIntosh converted a three-point play to tie the game. Uveges then split the Bartlett defense for a layup with 6:11 to play that put South Elgin ahead for good, 38-36. With Bartlett still hanging in after 2 free throws from senior Liz Arco made it 42-39 with 3:34 to go, sophomore Bridgette Williams muscled in a basket, senior Anna Tracy made a free throw, and Uveges hit a pullup jumper in the lane to put the Storm up 47-39 with 2:21 left.
Senior Ally Giampapa scored twice for the Hawks in the final 23 seconds but it was too little too late.
"We wanted this ever since we lost to them the first time," said Uveges of the Storm's 63-54 loss at Bartlett on Dec. 12. "We just wanted it so bad. Our desire to win was there. We kept our composure and everyone was fearless. We kept our cool, we made some smart decisions and we trusted each other."
Uveges' play earned the praise of not only her coach but also plaudits from Bartlett coach Denise Sarna.
"Savanah played really well -- she was the difference out there," said Prendergast. "She took over and clearly she was the best athlete on the floor. Her speed is amazing. That was the difference."
Said Sarna, who knows more than a little about coaching Division I athletes: "Savanah willed her team to victory today. Congrats to her and her team. It's nice to have that kind of player. She really responded today."
Prendergast also praised the play of Williams (6 points, 5 rebounds), as well as the senior leadership and performance of Miller and Tracy. Miller had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds as South Elgin won the battle of the boards 35-23 and shot 19 of 45, including 11 of 19 in an efficient second half.
"Kennede and Anna played like seniors tonight," Prendergast said. "They really stepped up, and Bridgette Williams was a beast inside. She keeps getting better and more confident out there."
Giampapa led Bartlett, which was 18 of 46 shooting, with 11 points. Shelly Lyjack and Arco added 9 each.
"We didn't finish," said Sarna, whose team had a four-game winning streak snapped. "There comes a time in a game when you have to step up and take charge. We got up eight and maybe thought we were going to coast. We didn't do a good job of defending the drive and we got beat on the boards."