Wheaton North has celebrated each of its girls basketball victories this season.
On Thursday night the Falcons took their celebration to a level not seen at Wheaton North in 26 years.
Wheaton North withstood a ferocious challenge from St. Charles East to win the 33rd annual Bill Neibch Falcon Classic 57-55 in overtime. It was the first time the Falcons (11-3) have won the title at their own tournament since 1990, fifth time overall.
"It has been a long time, and every year we have just been wanting to get it," said Falcons junior guard Hannah Swider who scored 22 of her 26 points after halftime. "We've been wanting it more than we've been wanting to take a breath. And it is so sweet to get it. I don't even have words to say how excited we are."
The victory was the Falcons' 10th straight and ended the Saints' own 10-game winning streak.
"I'm just so excited for the kids," said Falcons coach Dave Eaton. "... We ask a lot out of them, and I really think it paid off."
In a matchup worthy of a championship game, the teams traded the lead nine times before Saints senior Marissa Urso hit a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2.5 seconds to play for the sixth and final tie of the game, forcing overtime.
"It was kind of crazy," junior forward Sara Rosenfeldt said. "Marissa hit a clutch shot, and she always comes through in the clutch when we need her."
The Falcons were no strangers to close games, having won by 1 in the quarterfinals and having played two overtime periods in the semifinals.
"It was crazy. That overtime, we just kept calm because we were in it the night before and we knew what we needed to do," Swider said. "We were just having fun. We got it done. It was so exciting."
"It was an exciting game. We just fell a little bit short," added Saints coach Lori Drumtra. "Wheaton North plays really solid defense. They make you earn everything that you get. It's a real physical game, which we knew."
The Falcons took their play to another level in the second half, scoring the first 8 points of the third quarter to take a 7-point lead, their biggest of the game.
"We knew coming into it that Wheaton North was going to bring intensity throughout the game," Rosenfeldt said. "They always do. They're always aggressive."
But the Saints (13-3) charged right back at the Falcons behind Rosenfeldt, who finished with 28 points and 7 rebounds, scoring on a combination of three 3-pointers plus physical drives to the basket.
"She's one of my good friends, and she is so tough," Swider said. "She works her butt off. She works phenomenally hard."
With Swider, Nikki Baird and Sophie Ahlberg making free throws, the Falcons took a 5-point lead with 14.8 seconds to play. But again Urso nailed a 3-pointer, this time from the left corner. After a Falcons turnover the Saints had one last chance, but a runner in the lane rolled around the rim and then off, giving the Falcons the victory.
"St. Charles East made some big shots down the stretch, and for our kids just to keep answering back and finish with one last stop, that was a great way to finish," Eaton said.
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