An 8-2 deficit had Naperville Central girls basketball coach Andy Nussbaum looking down his bench.
He called on Abby Kincaide and told the 5-foot-9 junior to "man up on 25." Man, talk about a tough assignment. Stevenson's No. 25, Ashley Richardson, is a three-time all-tournament selection at Dundee-Crown's Charger Classic.
"I wasn't really expecting me to be the one guarding her," Kincaide said. "It was a little surprising."
Nussbaum wasn't surprised by Kincaide's effort, which helped Naperville Central pull away in the fourth quarter en route to a 38-30 win that earned the Redhawks a berth in Thursday's 8 p.m. championship game against Maine West.
Naperville Central (14-4, 3-0 tourney) is seeking its first D-C title since winning back-to-back crowns with Candace Parker in 2002 and 2003.
"I thought that we weren't very tough in the first quarter, and Abby came in and gave us some toughness," Nussbaum said. "I said at halftime, 'I can't take her out because she's bringing toughness to what we want to do.' I thought she did a great job defensively on a great player (Richardson). And her teammates certainly contributed. When she lost her, we had help."
Naperville Central's box-and-one defense helped limit Richardson to 6 points before the senior point guard hit a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Richardson and Klaire Steffens each finished with 9 points for Stevenson (11-3, 2-1), which will play Hampshire in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
"She was a pretty good defender," Richardson said of Kincaide. "It was hard for me to get shots up. And that's what we needed."
Richardson came in averaging 16.5 points per game but got off only 9 shots. Stevenson shot a woeful 18 percent from the floor (8 of 44).
"Our defensive game plan was excellent," Patriots coach Ashley Graham said. "To hold them to 38 points, our kids really prided themselves there. Unfortunately, offensively we never got it going. We've had bad halves before, but offensively we looked a little bit out of sorts and, yes, that was credit to their defense."
Naperville Central's Mia Lakstigala led all scorers with 13 points (three 3-pointers), while Erin Moran added 9 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals. Sophomore Lucy Schmid contributed 8 points and 11 rebounds. Up 24-19 after three quarters, the Redhawks opened the fourth with a jumper by Schmid and 3-pointer by Lakstigala. Schmid's putback capped an 11-2 run, giving Naperville Central a 35-21 lead (its largest) with 3:05 left.
"In the first half we weren't as good offensively," Kincaide said. "We were fumbling the ball around a lot. In the second half we were able to get our composure on offense, and that helped us pull away."
Naperville Central improved to 5-0 in semifinal games at D-C, while denying Stevenson a repeat appearance in the championship game. The Patriots' loss snapped their nine-game winning streak.
"We just couldn't get offense, and that's what hurt us," Richardson said. "Our defense was good."