After struggling through winless seasons thus far, the girls basketball teams from Elgin and Larkin were determined to do whatever they had to do to get that first victory Tuesday night at Elgin's Chesbrough Field House.
In the end it was Larkin, which had a better shooting percentage from 3-point range than from the free-throw line, that hung on for a hard-fought 55-52 Upstate Eight River win.
"We needed it bad," said Larkin coach Steve Knapp, whose team was playing for the first time since finishing the Burlington Central Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 18.
"Good for the girls."
The Royals (1-5, 1-0) won despite going just 9-for-25 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter and 17 of 38 for the game.
After a spirited and well-played first half, the game turned into a free throw-fest in the second half. The teams combined to make only 19 of 46 attempts from the line in the second half and 31-for-66 for the game.
But it turned out that the 3-point shot provided Larkin the separation it needed to make Elgin chase the lead the entire second half.
After taking a 23-21 lead into the halftime break the Royals came out on a 16-7 run to start the third quarter, a spurt that was fueled by four 3-pointers -- one each from Aaliyah Dixon, Gloria Stoltz, Brianna Young and Kiara Villa.
"We're not really a 3-point shooting team, we're more of a driving team," said Knapp, whose team was 16 of 44 for the game including 6-for-15 from 3-point range.
"But we do have some shooters that can make them."
One of those is Young, a sophomore who knocked down three 3s on the night and scored a game-high 18 points.
"It was just opportunity," said Young, who also had 8 rebounds. "We just went out confident and positive and got some shots up. Our main thing tonight was to be strong with the ball."
Ahead 36-25 after Young's 3 with 3:45 left in the third quarter, the Royals held Elgin (0-8, 0-3) at bay until the Maroons, with the help of Larkin's free throw woes, fought their way back into the game.
Elgin closed the gap to 49-45 with 2:12 to go on a steal and a layup from senior Kylie Graves.
But Larkin finally found the bottom of the net on enough free throws in a span of a little over a minute to move the lead back to 9 at 54-45 after 2 free throws from sophomore Aaliyah Dixon, who scored 17 points, with 39 seconds to play.
Still, Elgin didn't wilt. Junior Kamiya Harvey, who scored 14 points, hit a 3 with 29 seconds left and after Larkin missed twice from the line, Graves made 2 free throws with 20 seconds to go to make it a 54-50 game.
But senior Haley Bohne made the second of two from the line with 10 seconds left, making Harvey's layup with two seconds to play academic.
"It was the tale of two halves," said Knapp. "The first half was a clean basketball game and not a lot of fouls. I think both teams got a little tired in the second half and we didn't play very good defense. Both teams played hard but, man, we gotta make some free throws."
Junior Dajha Cooper added 14 points for Elgin, which was 17 of 60 shooting for the night but did win the rebound battle 45-39, led by 13 from Cooper, who fouled out midway through the fourth quarter. Graves added 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Maroons while senior Makenna Downing had 8 points.
"We had a lot of missed shots in the first half and early turnovers," said Elgin coach Dr. Nick Bumbales. "(Larkin) hit some big shots. They looked pretty good for being off for two-and-a-half weeks. Steve did a good job and Young had a good game. We didn't have a matchup for her.
"My kids battled and played hard to the end but it's disappointing."