A winning streak that started more than a month ago suddenly felt extra special.
Warren's girls basketball team, after all, hadn't beaten Stevenson in nearly six years and hadn't bested anyone as good as the Patriots during its recent run of victories.
So when Ashley Richardson's heave from three-quarters court fell just a yard shy of the basket, securing Warren's 42-40 win in front of a large crowd Wednesday night, it was no wonder that the Blue Devils broke into a celebration mode. They bounced around Stevenson's court, hugging any teammate they could find.
"All those games (during the winning streak), Stevenson was in the back of our mind," Warren guard Jordyn Hughes said. "I was thinking about it all day at school. I think we handled the intensity really well."
Hughes and Kaylen Dickson scored 16 and 15 points, respectively, as Warren hiked its record to 18-3 and 6-2 in the North Suburban Conference with its 11th win in a row, while snapping an 11-game losing streak against the Patriots. Stevenson, which still leads Warren by 1 game in the loss column in the NSC, fell to 15-5 and 8-1.
"This was a big game for our girls," coach John Stanczykiewicz said after his Blue Devils avenged a 47-41 loss on Dec. 2. "We hadn't had that win this year that we could hang a star on and say we beat someone that is established and is recognized as one of the best teams in the area. Now we finally got that."
Not that it was easy for Warren, even after the Blue Devils took a 32-23 lead into the fourth when Rebekah Foley (5 points) beat the third-quarter buzzer with a scoop shot.
"It was a heck of a high school ballgame," Stanczykiewicz said. "We did just enough to hang on at the end. Uncharacteristically for us, we missed free throws down the stretch. That's been one of our strengths -- making free throws."
Uncharacteristically for Stevenson, Richardson missed a free throw down the stretch.
"Lately, they just don't want to go in," she said.
The veteran guard, who's been a clutch foul shooter since her freshman year, drew a foul with 4.7 seconds left in the fourth and Stevenson down 41-39. Richardson's first free throw was just short.
"I was thinking overtime," Stanczykiewicz said. "I was thinking, 'Who do we start (in OT)?' What are we going to run? What plays are we going to look to go to right away?' "
Richardson made the second free throw, but by the time the Patriots could foul, just 1.8 seconds remained on the clock. Hughes (three 3-pointers) missed her first toss but sank the second.
Warren misfired on 6 of 10 free throws in the final 3:42.
"Lots of screaming," said Dickson, who rimmed out a pair with 16.5 seconds left. "We're not used to people showing up for a girls basketball game."
The Blue Devils enjoyed an 11-point lead early in the fourth, but Richardson drained a 3-pointer with 6:36 to go, and the comeback was on. The Patriots eventually pulled within 41-39 when they forced a quick turnover under the Warren basket and Richardson sank a jumper with 25 seconds left.
"I think we just made silly mistakes that we definitely should have prevented," said Dickson, who also had 5 rebounds and 5 steals. "They were things that we usually get away with it in lesser-caliber games, but not in this game."
Richardson (5 rebounds, 3 steals) and Madison Wicklund each scored 13 points for Stevenson. Wicklund sank 3 baskets in the fourth quarter. Klaire Steffens had 9 points and 5 rebounds for the Patriots, who hadn't lost to Warren since February of 2011.
"We just need to be better composed on offense," Richardson said. "It's on everybody. We just had way too many mistakes."