Hersey girls basketball coach Mary Fendley called Maesyn Benjamin's performance off the bench a statement game for the 5-foot-7 junior guard, who received the game ball.
And, as she often does, Huskies senior Claire Gritt made her statement with the basketball, tossing it in 10 times from the field and 12 times from the free throw line for a game-high 34 points that helped lift Hersey past Evanston 64-58 at the Montini Christmas Tournament on Friday night.
The victory gave the Mid-Suburban East co-leaders fifth place in the ultra-competitive 16-team tourney now in its eighth year in Lombard.
"This was exciting," said Gritt (7 rebounds, two 3-pointers), who came through big in the clutch when she scored 15 points in the fourth quarter. "I just felt like the whole team came out with a lot of energy and no matter what happened, we all picked up each other."
Benjamin also picked up the Huskies (14-2) in the final quarter, scoring 6 of her 8 points with a 3-point play on a beautiful scoop layup while driving around a defender for a 45-43 lead, and on a 3-point shot that gave Hersey a 42-38 lead.
"Maesyn came in the second half and really gave us a spark," Gritt added. "Everyone was just playing so hard, and that helped me score."
The Wildkits, who came into the tourney with a 15-0 record, took a 46-45 lead when senior Leah Robinson converted a 3-point play with 5:01 to go.
But Gritt answered with a 3-pointer and a driving layup to push the Huskies back ahead 50-46 with 3:30 left.
Senior guard Kelly Weyhrich (9 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assist, 3 steals) sank 3 key free throws in the next minute and a half, and Gritt hit a floater in the lane to boost the lead to 55-47 with 1:10 left.
Free throws in the final 15 seconds by Weyhrich and Gritt put Hersey up 64-55 before Evanston freshman Kayla Henning hit a 3-pointer just before the final buzzer sounded.
Senior Krystal Forrester led the Wildkits with 18 points, followed by Boothe (13) and Henning (10).
Western Michigan recruit Leighah Amori-Wool (averaging 13 ppg) injured her ankle with 46.7 seconds left in the first quarter and did not return.
"There are two great players (Amori-Wool and Gritt)," said first-year Evanston coach Brittany Johnson. "She (Gritt) played like a senior and we lost ours (injury). She (Gritt) stepped up and hit the shots when they needed them. We made a run at the end but it would have been different if we made it earlier when there was more time left."
Benjamin picked the perfect time to produce her big game.
She came in when all-area guard Gina Miklasz (5 points) picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter.
"This was a statement game for Maesyn (6 rebounds, 3 steals) to show how tough she is," Fendley said. "She is so hard-nosed. She played tough in the paint and took care of the ballhandling when Claire and Kelly were trapped. She was a huge difference maker. In fact, she might have been the difference between winning and losing this game."
Gritt equaled her career high of 34, which she also scored again Rich East in the Bison Classic hosted by Buffalo Grove High School.
"She's still pretty sore, too, from a leg injury in our game on Thursday," said Fendley, who also got offensive points from Erin McGrath, Carly Cooper and Andrea Cannon. "To play as tough as she did on a sore leg says something about her. She and Kelly have been taking a lot of contact and it will be nice to have a week break until our next game."
That next game will be a big one -- for first place in the Mid-Suburban East, as the Huskies host Rolling Meadows (11-5, 3-0) for a 6 p.m. game on Friday.
Coincidentally, Hersey and Meadows have handed Evanston its only two losses.
The Wildkits played three straight games against MSL teams in the tourney, defeating Fremd on Thursday.
"It's crazy," Johnson said. "Not just three teams from one conference but the three best in that conference. That's why this tournament is so great. You lose and then come right back against another great team."
Fremd 62, Proviso East 26: Fremd took seventh place in the Montini Christmas Tournament and raised its record to 11-4.
Senior Grace Tworek recorded a triple-double with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 10 blocked shots.
"Grace had another monster game," said Fremd coach Dave Yates of his Harvard recruit. "She really established herself down low during the game. Then that opened up the 3-pointers for everyone."
Tworek, Midori Williams (10 points) and Hayley Williams (8 points) each had a pair of 3-pointers. Freshman Emily Klaczek also chipped in 8 points for Fremd.
"I think we were back to being ourselves after Thursday (a 46-35 loss to Evanston)," Yates added. "We were cold like Minnesota shooting the ball that game (no 3-pointers)."
Fremd finished 2-2 in the tourney.
"This was a good bounce-back game for us," Yates said. "I was very proud of our girls for finishing up the tournament strong. Going 2-2 in this tournament, with this field, is a major accomplishment."
Yates said the Vikings could easily have chosen to participate elsewhere over the holidays.
"We could have gone to many other local tournaments and been the best team in the gym," he said. "You learn a lot about yourself when you have to play four straight ranked teams in a tournament. We have always made it a point to challenge ourselves during the holiday and I think it has paid off down the road come playoffs. Montini runs an outstanding tournament and we are very honored to be a part of it."