Always the math teacher, coach Paul Brettner figured since his Vernon Hills girls basketball team and North Chicago averaged two overtime periods in two regular-season games, a third contest would yield a similar result.
"I figured that's where we were headed," Brettner said.
Considering how clutch Sydney Smith and Lauren Webb have been in their four-year varsity careers, it figures that Vernon Hills is headed to another Class 3A sectional final.
Behind Smith's game-high 29 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals, 3 blocks and 3 assists and Webb's 23 points and 5 boards, top-seeded Vernon Hills outlasted No. 4 North Chicago 66-56 at Ridgewood in another tightly contested battle between the two North Suburban Conference Prairie Division squads.
Vernon Hills (25-5) will seek its third sectional championship in a row Thursday at 7 p.m. when it faces No. 3 Carmel (23-8) at Ridgewood.
Vernon Hills had beaten visiting North Chicago in triple overtime on Jan. 22, after losing in OT at North Chicago on Dec. 10.
With the Cougars having allowed only 30 points in two games in winning the Gordon Tech regional, North Chicago provided the first legitimate threat to end their season.
"Before the game, we told each other, 'This is potentially our last game as a team,' " Smith said. "No one wanted it to end. We have so much potential. We said, 'Give it your all this game. Scream. Get fouled. Take fouls. Play hard. Play with energy and momentum, and go out there and have fun.' "
Vernon Hills jumped out to a 14-4 lead and was up 21-13 with 6:29 left in the second quarter after Katherine Koczwara (4 points, 4 rebounds) canned a baseline jumper. But North Chicago (19-10) answered with a 10-0 run, and when Tineesha Coleman banked in a shot in the lane to beat the buzzer, the Warhawks were up 28-25.
"At halftime, we weren't having fun," Smith said. "The second quarter, we were playing like it was just another job. We felt like we were down by a million. We weren't. Thank God."
Brettner figured his team's predicament wasn't that bad, actually.
"Going into this game, as evenly matched as we were (with North Chicago), we said if we were down three at half, we'd feel pretty good about it," Brettner said. "Last time (the triple-OT game at Vernon Hills), we were down 11 (27-16, at halftime). We came back then, so (we figured), we can do it now."
Webb said her coach talked about the Cougars keeping their composure, after turning the ball over 17 times in the first two quarters.
"We were just jumpy," Webb said. "The first quarter we played our game, and then they came at us. We just had to stop, think about our game and play our game."
Smith's sank four of her five 3-pointers in the third quarter, and the Cougars took better care of the basketball. But Samantha Rodriguez (team-high 23 points) hit two 3s and made 3 free throws after being fouled on a three-point shot.
Vernon Hills clung to a 46-45 lead entering the fourth.
Coleman's 2 free throws had the Warhawks in front 50-48 with 5:23 left. But Webb drained a 17-footer, Dana Meline drove and sank a left-handed shot, Webb split 2 free throws and Smith finished a layup to cap a 7-0 run and put the Cougars up 55-50 with 3:31 to go.
Kylah Collins' bucket made it a three-point game, but back came the Cougars. Smith scooped in a shot, Meline fed Haley Lieberman (6 points, 4 assists) for a layup, and 2 foul shots apiece by Webb and Lieberman had the Cougars up 11 with a minute left.
"That team you just saw in the third and fourth quarters," Smith said, "that's the team that's going to carry us in the postseason."
Coleman finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds for North Chicago, while Collins had 10 points, 6 rebounds and 6 steals."
"We just didn't play with any intensity (defensively) tonight, like we normally do," Warhawks coach Laurence Brown said. "I think (Vernon Hills') experience helped them a lot, too. They kept their poise, even after we came back and went up on them."