Championship games of basketball tournaments are known for intensity. However, semifinal games that determine who goes to the title game aren't for the faint of heart either.
The Wheaton North girls team, seeded seventh in its own Bill Neibch Falcon Classic, survived an intense double-overtime battle Wednesday night in semifinal play, beating third-seeded Lyons Township 40-37.
The seventh-seeded Falcons (10-3) face St. Charles East at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for the tournament championship. They will put a nine-game winning streak on the line.
"We have wanted to get to the championship so bad. We haven't won it recently," said junior Hannah Swider, who scored a game-high 14 points.
It was the second time this season the two teams have met. The Lions (10-2) had beaten the Falcons by 15 at Lyons Township's own Thanksgiving tournament.
"This just shows how we've grown," Falcons junior point guard Sophie Ahlberg said. "We knew what to do and went out and did it."
The game was deadlocked at 36 after the first overtime. A putback by Swider that originally was set up on a steal from Nikki Baird put Wheaton North up 38-36. Baird finished with 12 points.
With 2:28 remaining a free throw by Sidney Bugaleski pulled the Lions to within 1 point. Then with just 29.8 seconds left on the clock, Swider made two free throws to make it 40-37.
Lyons Township called its final timeout with 21.5 seconds remaining. It got off a couple of shots that fell short as time ran out.
In the first overtime Camille Branch's layup put the Lions up 36-34. About a minute later Wheaton North's Sarah Topps was left alone just long enough to hit net and tie the game at 36.
"It's a cliché, but it was heart," said Falcons coach Dave Eaton. "The kids on the floor kept fighting. We were outsized. (The Lions) are very strong and athletic. But we were fighting for rebounds and positions inside."
Wheaton North led 34-31 on two free throws by Swider with just 19.7 seconds left in regulation. Lyons Township called a timeout with 17 seconds left. Their play worked as Lily Courier hit a 3-point basket to tie the game at 34.
The Falcons were 8 off 11 from the free-throw line and 4 of 4 in the fourth quarter and two overtimes. Swider said Wheaton North is ready every game on defense and with its free-throw shooting and that was crucial Wednesday
"We pound on defense. We work on free throws 30 minutes every practice. And we can't win games if we don't get the defensive stops," she said.