If the St. Charles East girls basketball team goes on to win the Upstate Eight River, the Saints can look back on their second half Tuesday at St. Charles North as a turning point.
Trailing by four at halftime to their red-hot rivals, Sam Munroe scored 8 points in a 60-second stretch that highlighted a 10-1 run to close the third quarter on the way to a 67-55 come-from-behind victory.
The win keeps the Saints (19-4, 8-1) tied with Geneva with one loss in the Upstate Eight Conference River. St. Charles North (14-8, 6-3), who had won 7 of its last 8, fell two games back.
No. 8 St. Charles East closes the regular season at No. 4 Geneva on Feb. 10.
"North just beat Geneva so we're excited," Munroe said. "We have a chance to win conference so we're keeping up our intensity and motivation."
The North Stars started fast, taking a quick 5-0 lead when Lizzy Olsem scored inside and Jaz Harmon nailed a 3. They went on to shoot 62 percent in a first half filled with big runs by both teams.
A 10-0 surge with 5 points from Marissa Urso gave the Saints a 12-7 lead. The North Stars followed with a 13-2 run that included Harmon's steal and feed to Anna Davern for a layup, and some good outside shooting from Olsem, Leilauni Chanthaboury and Grace Quinn.
At that point the North Stars led 23-14, but the Saints again answered with a 12-2 run fueled by Urso and Sara Rosenfeldt.
Chanthaboury did connect on a 3-point basket after Davern hustled to keep a possession alive, and Quinn knocked down another jumper to send the North Stars to halftime up 30-26, but North Stars coach Mike Tomczak said they let a golden opportunity slip away.
"We felt we missed an opportunity to put the game away in the second quarter," Tomczak said. "We were up 9 with the ball and we turned the ball over and they went on a 9 or 10-0 run. I think a basket there could have given us some room to be comfortable."
As they have most of the year, the Saints made the third quarter their quarter. The North Stars took their final lead at 37-35 when Harmon played the passing lane perfectly for a steal and layup with 3 minutes left in the quarter.
Munroe then hit a 3 to put the Saints ahead to stay, immediately drilled another one, then scored on a transition layup after a steal. Urso drove and passed down low to Ashley DiOrio just before the third quarter buzzer for a 45-38 lead.
"It was a turning point," Tomczak said. "She's a great player and shot the ball with confidence tonight. And we didn't respond. When you turn the ball over as much as we did you can't get in a hole."
The North Stars never got closer than 7 points in the fourth quarter, the final time at 62-55 on Quinn's 3-pointer. Munroe, who scored 17 of her 21 points in the second half, made 11 of 14 free throws.
"Sam's energy is unmatched," Saints coach Lori Drumtra said. "Sometimes we have to chain her down. She's got so much energy and never seems to get tired. She works hard. I think that energy she brings is contagious. The rest of the team better follow along because she's going."
Even when the Saints missed at the line, such as one attempt by Rosenfeldt, she managed to get her own rebound and force the North Stars to foul again.
The Saints outscored the North Stars 19-8 in the third quarter and 41-25 in the second half.
"Third quarter this year has been our quarter," Munroe said. "Just getting the intensity up, digging down. We knew if we put work in on defense it would pay off on our offensive side. We just tried to pressure them more."
Rosenfeldt matched Munroe with 21 points and also grabbed 14 rebounds. Urso scored 19.
Olsem led the North Stars with 15 points, Quinn and Davern scored 10, but 20 turnovers proved too much to overcome. After making 13 of 23 shots in the first half, the North Stars were 9 of 22 in the second.
"We knew realistically we can't keep that clip up," Tomczak said of the first half. "We did not value the ball enough. That ball is precious and we turned the ball over 20 times. When you allow a two-man press to fluster you, especially in the first half, that doesn't bode well. We have two posts who are solid players and they didn't get nearly enough touches."