Conant fends off Palatine's late surge

 
By Bill Esbrook
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 1/16/2015 10:39 PM

Palatine coach Mark Johnson said he "couldn't be prouder of my girls" after the Pirates lost a hard-fought MSL West basketball game Friday night at Conant.

Cougars coach Deirdre Naughton, meanwhile, felt her team was fortunate to escape with a victory.

 

It was almost impossible to tell who won and who lost after home-standing Conant edged Palatine 43-39 at William N. Perry gymnasium in Hoffman Estates.

The Pirates were disappointed yet enthusiastic after a huge fourth-quarter rally fell just short, while the Cougars had the look of a team that had almost given away a win.

"You have to give Palatine all the credit in the world tonight," said Naughton. "They came out ready to play and we didn't."

Junior guard Nireet Dhillon scored a game high 12 points for Conant, while Sydney Rzepka tallied 11 for Palatine before fouling out late in the contest.

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"We usually come out and play hard, but we just weren't ready to play tonight," said Cougars junior Brie Murphy, echoing her coach's sentiments. "I think we just lost focus."

Despite recording 6 steals in the opening minutes, Conant (13-3, 4-1) couldn't capitalize on the offensive end as the game went back and forth early.

Then Murphy came off the pines in the second quarter and hit two consecutive 3s to give the home team a double-digit lead.

"Coach Naughton always tells us to be ready the minute we get up off the bench," said Murphy. "That's what I tried to do."

Play went the Cougars' way for the next 1½ quarters as they built up a 35-20 lead after 3, but a defensive change by Johnson shook things up in the fourth.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We started giving them some different looks," said Johnson. "They (Conant) started missing, and we were boxing out, getting the rebounds and scoring on the other end."

The Pirates rallied to within 41-39 with 20 seconds left after a rebound and putback from senior Maria Charlier. After the Cougars split a pair of free throws the visitors had one final chance.

But Palatine (9-11, 2-3) misfired on the offensive end, and Conant sophomore Jorie Wachal was able to get the rebound, was fouled, and hit 1 of 2 foul shots with under a second left to seal the victory.

Ashley Shapiro scored 8 points for Palatine, teammate Rzepka led the way on the glass with 9 rebounds, while Murphy finished with three 3s and 9 points for Conant.

"I look at this as a learning experience for our team," said Naughton. "As I said, we didn't come ready to play, but we did what we needed to to at the end to win and that's what good teams do.

"We were playing great defense early then we kind of lost focus, especially on the offensive end which is not like us. But a lot of the credit for that has to go to Palatine. They gave a tremendous effort."

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