Naperville Central freshman hits game-winning 3 at buzzer
It's a pretty good bet Mia Lakstigala's days on the Naperville Central JV girls basketball team are in the past.
The freshman guard's 3-point shot from the top of the key swished through the net as the final buzzer sounded Thursday night, capping a comeback from 17 points down in the third quarter and giving the Redhawks a stunning 59-56 varsity victory against visiting Wheaton North.
"We didn't put our heads down. We kept shooting and we started to make our shots," Lakstigala said.
The Redhawks trailed 28-18 at halftime, then saw Wheaton North (8-8, 2-1 DuPage Valley Conference) open the third quarter with a torrid 10-3 run. The Redhawks (9-12, 3-1) didn't quit, however, and Haley Minick's two free throws cut the margin to 8 points going to the fourth quarter.
"With this team there was never an easy feeling. They shoot the ball too well from 3," Falcons coach Dave Eaton said of the Redhawks, who made seven 3-pointers, six in the second half. "They have too many perimeter threats. And a kid who's overlooked is Minick inside. Minick is a ton inside. She's a great player. I think she gets overlooked because she only scores 2 and not 3 every time."
The lead stood at 10 with about three minutes to go when the Redhawks went on a 14-point run, taking the lead on a Hannah Swarm 3-pointer off a Casey Smith assist with 57 seconds to play.
Wheaton North senior Kelly Thornton tied the game with 15 seconds to go with her basket, but Naperville Central made the most of the game's final possession.
The Redhawks were cool under pressure as the clock wound down, working the ball around the perimeter for an open shot.
"Swarm did a good job of just getting the ball to Cierra being open," Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum said. "Cierra realized she was guarded and didn't try to force anything. It was really calm on Cierra's part to relax and find an open player. And our freshman is too naive to know (better). But she played great."
Lakstigala wound up with the ball and time about to expire. She said she would have preferred to have deferred to a senior, that she just didn't want to mistake. Instead she did the same thing she did in practice Wednesday when she was on the scout team mimicking Wheaton North in a final-seconds situation.
"She knifed through our starters and made the winning basket," Nussbaum said of that practice situation. "I was like, maybe we should do that."
They did, but from long distance.
"They hit a shot when they needed to hit a shot," Eaton said. "And it didn't come down to the last shot. They made plays all third and fourth quarter. We've got to do a little bit better defensively getting the job done. We are a little up and down right now and it shows at times."
Seniors Emily Kraft and Minick each scored 14 points for the Redhawks, and Lakstigala added 12 off the bench.
Seniors Emari Jones and Thornton had 17 points apiece for Wheaton North, with Jones adding 9 rebounds and 5 assists.
"I'm so proud of our girls because there were so many times ... they could have said, well, we played hard," Nussbaum said. "So you've got to give our girls a lot of credit."
Follow Orrin on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz