Stevenson nails down NSC Lake crown
Painful as it might have been, Stevenson's basketball girls spent part of their morning last Saturday watching the entire video of their loss at Zion-Benton the previous night.
"It wasn't our best game, but we watched it and we, for sure, checked our mistakes," 6-foot sophomore Klaire Steffens said. "We practiced hard to fix them."
Thursday night, the Patriots showed they're good learners. Not that 22 wins in 27 games wouldn't have suggested that.
Behind Ashley Richardson's game-high 17 points and Steffens' 14 points and 6 rebounds, Stevenson clinched the North Suburban Conference Lake Division championship with a 46-31 win over host Libertyville Thursday night. Jessica Burke grabbed 9 rebounds for the Patriots, who led wire to wire.
"We didn't really want to share the (division championship with Zion-Benton)," Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said. "I think our kids really had that chip on their shoulder. They wanted (the championship) outright. They really earned it tonight. They played really hard for 32 minutes."
Stevenson (23-5, 11-1) now gets a rematch with Antioch, which beat the Patriots on their home floor in last year's NSC title game. Stevenson visits Antioch next Wednesday night.
"I think it'll be a good game," Richardson said. "I think we're ready. I'm just excited to play."
So what did the Patriots have to clean up after their only NSC-Lake loss?
"Defending dribble drive," said Graham, whose team followed up its Z-B loss with a win over Mundelein on Tuesday. "Libertyville is excellent at dribble drive, dribble penetration and kicking it out for 3s. We really prided ourselves the last week on keeping people in front of us and forcing them east-west."
The Patriots were sharp against Libertyville (13-12, 6-6) from the start. Steffens and Burke each hit a pair of shots in helping the visitors bolt to a 13-0 lead, before Maggie Piazzi scored for the Wildcats.
Richardson's second of her three 3-pointers had Stevenson up 16-5 after one quarter.
"I think that was our best start to a game ever. Even Coach Graham said so," Richardson said. "We usually come out a little slow and don't have anything."
It didn't help Libertyville that its best player was under the weather. Claire Keefe, who missed the Wildcats' Tuesday loss to New Trier because of illness, started the game on the bench.
"They wanted the game," Keefe, who finished with 8 points and 6 rebounds, said of the Patriots. "They were ready for it."
Down 27-10 at halftime, Libertyville picked up its game after the break. Riley Weis (9 points) sank two of her three 3-pointers in helping the Wildcats outscore the Patriots 9-2 in the third to pull within 29-19. But Stevenson's Kiana Cencula opened the fourth with a three-point play, Steffens finished a layup, and the Patriots kept their double-digit margin the rest of the way.
"Libertyville went on a run, but we didn't put our heads down," Graham said. "That's the most important thing, because basketball is a game of runs."
The Patriots simply weren't going to be denied.
"We had momentum going in," Keefe said. "We were like, 'We played really well (against New Trier). Let's have a team game.' But we came into it a little frazzled."
Stevenson came into with all the motivation it needed.
"Obviously, any team's goal is to go undefeated in their conference," Steffens said. "That little loss (to Zion-Benton) just boosted us and motivated us to come out here strong."