Richardson, Stevenson oust Grant
By Ashley Richardson's count, it was the first time she fouled out of a basketball game in a four-year varsity career for Stevenson.
And 4:41 still remained in host Stevenson's Class 4A regional semifinal against Grant on Wednesday night.
Grant coach Chris Van Alstine didn't need the remaining time on the game clock to come to a conclusion about the Patriots' point guard.
"I know she's a shooter. I know she's an athlete," Van Alstine said. "I was impressed with her defense. I think she's very underrated defensively. She's amazing getting over the top of the screens. It's almost where you don't have to help her."
Stevenson has won with defense all season and did again against Grant, leading the entire way in capturing a 46-29 decision that earned the third-seeded Patriots (23-5) a berth in Friday's 7 p.m. regional final against No. 6 Libertyville (17-11).
If Stevenson wins, Richardson will count another first -- a regional championship to go along with two North Suburban Conference titles in her career as a Patriot.
"The emotions are flowing," Richardson said. "It's going to be a great game (against Libertyville). They definitely play hard. It seems like they always play great against us. They always knock down their shots. I'm excited, but it's definitely going to take a team effort to win."
Stevenson, which improved to 9-1 on its home court, assured it wasn't looking ahead to Libertyville.
No. 14 Grant (12-19) was within 7 points with less than three minutes left in the first half, before a putback by Madison Wicklund (6 points, 7 rebounds) and 3-point play by Kiana Cencula (7 points) had Stevenson up 27-15 at halftime.
"It's very hard not to look ahead, especially on our home court," said Klaire Steffens, who led the Patriots with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds (both game highs). "But it's important that we take it a game at a time and focus on the team that we're playing."
Grant finished 12-14 under Van Alstine, who took over after Thanksgiving on an interim basis after Kathie Swanson took a personal leave of absence.
"You got to tip your hat to (Grant) because from the middle of the season to the end of the season they did some really nice things," Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said. "They have some really nice players."
Sophomore guard Ally Mahinay led Grant with 12 points, including a 3-pointer and 6-of-7 shooting from the foul line. Kennedy Kiesgen added 8 points.
"(No.) 12 (Mahinay) is an excellent guard," said Graham, who remembers being impressed with Mahinay when she was scouting Antioch against Grant last year. "She gives people fits and is a great shooter. We put our best (Richardson) on her."
Richardson finished with 11 points, 5 assists and 3 steals.
"I told her at the end of the game, 'Everyone loves how you shoot it, but I was really impressed by you defensively,' " Van Alstine said.
While Grant limited Stevenson to 8 points in the third quarter, the Bulldogs scored just 5, all by Mahinay.
"The thing that they do incredibly well is limit you to one shot," Van Alstine said of the Patriots. "Their big girls do a great job of being in great spots, making contact and then using their height and going up. It was tough because we're used to getting whatever we want down there, even if we miss."
Stevenson beat Libertyville twice during NSC play, but both games were decided by 2 points. And the teams' game earlier this month at Libertyville required two overtimes.
"I always tell the kids, 'Every next game is our next biggest game,' " Graham said. "I never talk about one being more important than the other. But, internally, I know the kids are thinking about Friday night, as am I. We're all really excited for an opportunity to play for a regional (championship)."