Injuries have been a major obstacle this winter for the IC Catholic Prep girls basketball team, especially during a slow start to the season.
But with four-year varsity player Claire Gibler now back in the fold, the Knights are playing their best at just the right time.
Appearing in only her sixth game after returning from a torn ACL, Gibler scored all 12 of her points in the second half Thursday to lead ICCP to a 59-41 win over Willows Academy in a Class 2A regional semifinal in Elmhurst.
Hosting the regional, the Knights advance to Friday's 7 p.m. championship game against Regina Dominican, which moved on via a forfeit. ICCP (10-17) has won four of its last five contests to reach double digits in victories after dropping 10 of their first 13 to begin the year.
"I'm just ecstatic to be back," said Gibler, who went over the 1,000-point plateau on Feb. 2 against Wheaton Academy. "It was kind of up in the air on whether I'd make it back in time (for the end of the season). I just wanted to come out here and push myself and try to contribute in any way possible.
"And as a team, I do think we are coming together, we are jelling more. And the most important thing is we are having a great time. We are playing good, quality, fun basketball."
Leading 24-23 at halftime after the Eagles went on a 13-6 run to close out the second quarter, ICCP saw their lead vanish early in the third on a three-point play by Molly Murray. But the Knights responded with a 17-5 spurt of their own to build a double-digit advantage.
Gibler, who added 10 rebounds and 4 blocked shots, hit a pair of 3s during that stretch and freshman Alia Johnson, called up at Christmas, scored 7 of her game-high 15 points.
"We talked a lot at halftime, that our defense was the biggest thing," ICCP coach Kelsey James said. "We got kind of lazy defensively in the second quarter. In the third quarter our steals attributed to quick, easy layups for us. That is how we want to play."
The home team then held Willows (8-17) scoreless for the first half of the fourth as the advantage swelled to 20 at 53-33 on a layup by Jaida Smith. Smith finished with 10 points and 7 steals, and Sophie Zanoni also reached double figures with 10 points.
"With all of the obstacles this year," said James, whose team was still missing injured starter Kiersten King, "to be in a regional final means a lot for our team and the girls. They have been kind of kicked down a lot this year. To come out with a regional title would be huge."