Wheaton Warrenville South not only damaged Naperville Central's hopes for a DuPage Valley Conference girls basketball championship Thursday night in Naperville.
The Tigers also proved something to themselves.
WW South handed Naperville Central its second DVC loss of the season, 54-50, knocking the Redhawks two games behind undefeated Wheaton North in the DVC race as the season enters the final couple of weeks.
"It was a great win, and we really needed it," said Tigers senior Sarah Struebing, a three-year varsity player who hadn't beaten the Redhawks before. "It was a turning point for us. I'm really excited it. We've been talking about how we have more potential and we can play better."
"It sort of tells us where we've come now this year," Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke added. "We've played some big games, some tough games early in the year to be able to play in games like this. This is a regional (or) sectional game right here. You've got to be ready for all the ups and downs and things, and the kids just hung in there really (well)."
Perhaps the best sign his players are maturing?
"They were smiling on the floor, which is good," said Kroehnke, who had three sophomores play key minutes. "They relaxed a little bit. Because there were a couple of times there where I thought we were going to be in trouble, and they just kept battling."
Both the Tigers and the Redhawks play the Falcons once more this season.
"The ideal is you always want to have your destiny in your own hands," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said of the DVC race. "As of now (we) don't have that. So we need help."
After the teams traded the lead six times in the first quarter, the third-place Tigers (15-8, 9-3) broke away in the second with a 9-0 run. Their lead peaked at 31-20 on a pair of sophomore Maria Dohse free throws late in the period before the teams went into halftime 31-21.
But the Tigers left their momentum in the locker room at halftime, with the Redhawks (20-7, 11-2) coming right back in the third quarter. The teams entered the final period with the Tigers ahead by a point.
"I told our girls, they deserve to be congratulated for coming back," Nussbaum said. "Against a team like that, to come back from down 10. But that can't be enough. We've got to finish. And unfortunately we weren't able to do that."
The Redhawks finally tied the game at 46 on a Lucy Schmid basked with 2:15 to play. The Tigers responded a minute later with a Mackenzie Stebbins basket off a Jayla Johnson steal, followed by a pair of sophomore Mira Emma free throws. The Redhawks never pulled closer than 2 points again.
The Tigers made 16 of 19 free throws in the game.
"That was intense," Struebing said of the final two minutes. "We struggled with staying composed. Those free throws at the end by Mira were really, really key, and taking care of the ball and holding the ball and knowing that we had timeouts to call and we just needed to move the ball together and work together."
Johnson led the Tigers with 17 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks, and Struebing added 10 points and 4 assists.
Mia Lakstigala led the Redhawks with 18 points, and Lucy Schmid scored 13 and 9 rebounds.