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A sluggish offense that plagued West Chicago much of this season reared its ugly head again Monday night, but that's not to say the Wildcats went down without a big fight.
At Monday's Class 4A regional opener at Wheaton North, No. 13 seed Downers Grove South blanked No. 20 West Chicago in the third quarter on its way to a 31-25 victory. The Mustangs (9-15) led 24-15 after three quarters and looked in control with a 26-15 lead midway through the fourth quarter before the Wildcats rallied to get within 4 despite missing four free throws down the stretch.
"We just couldn't put it all together offensively. That's kind of been the story of our season," said West Chicago coach Kim Wallner, whose team closes the season at 5-23. "You can look at our record and maybe say the kids were packing it in. But they're all crying in there because that's a character thing with this group. This might not have been my most talented team basketball-wise, but it's probably one of my nicest, and I'm proud of what we accomplished."
Downers Grove South wasn't at the top of its offensive game either, but the Mustangs played strong defense and made just enough shots to advance to Tuesday's regional semifinal against No. 4 Wheaton North. Downers South trailed 9-6 after one quarter as Shelly Molskow had 5 of her team-leading 8 points in the opening quarter for the Wildcats.
With Ava Porlier scoring three baskets and freshman Addyson Wesalcwki adding two field goals, the Mustangs moved ahead 16-15 at the half and then used an 8-0 blanking in the third quarter to take control of the low-scoring affair.
For Porlier, a junior who led all scorers with 11 points, it was nice to finally claim a postseason win after losses in the first round in each of the last two seasons.
"We haven't gotten one (regional win) in God knows how long," she said. "My freshman year we lost to a good West Aurora team, and last year we had Elk Grove and they were real good too. So it's good to get our first regional win and hopefully we can get another one tomorrow."
Claire Hardy, the Mustangs' leading scorer this season, did not score in the first three quarters, but she opened the fourth quarter with a pair of free throws and later made both ends of a one-and-bonus situation to give her team a 31-22 lead with 23.7 seconds to play.
West Chicago's Kelsy Windisch followed with a 3-pointer as the Wildcats rebounded from the goose egg in the third quarter by tallying 10 points in the final quarter before coming up short.
"I figured in the fourth quarter they'd go to their man just to put more pressure on us because they were down quite a bit," first-year Downers South coach Lyndsie Long said. "We just need to learn to handle pressure better, and not leave our ballhandlers stranded. We need to play better together and not freak out."
Madeline Earls, one of six senior regulars who will be missed next season, had 6 points for the Wildcats. For the Mustangs, Wesalcwki finished with 8 points and Hardy scored her 6 all in the final quarter.