Stevenson hangs on to down Libertyville
Exhausted Stevenson senior guard Ava Bardic exhaled and fell into the arms of classmate Simone Sawyer in the final minute of a taut girls basketball game Saturday afternoon in Libertyville.
Remember flu-ridden Michael Jordan falling into the arms of teammate Scottie Pippen in a 1990s NBA playoff game in Utah?
"I saw 'The Last Dance,' " the 5-foot-8 Patriot said of the 2020 documentary about the Chicago Bulls.
The aforementioned local scene -- give Sawyer an assist, by the way, for catching her mate -- happened seconds after Bardic had recorded a clutch steal with Stevenson holding a 41-37 lead in the North Suburban Conference clash.
Patriots sophomore guard Kendell Williams was fouled by a Wildcat shortly after Bardic's larceny, allowing Bardic a well-deserved break in the action.
"I looked at the scoreboard, saw that 17 seconds were left, and then I felt so relieved," said Bardic, who netted all 9 of her points in the fourth quarter of Stevenson's 43-39 victory, which looked nothing like Stevenson's 51-28 rout of Libertyville in the teams' first meeting in early December.
"I thought, 'OK, this game is ours, finally.' Our resilience helped. The first three quarters, Libertyville played with more energy than we did. We didn't have much flow. But we all got on the same page in the fourth quarter and did all we could to keep the ball out of (Libertyville junior) Emily Fisher's hands."
Fisher, the Wildcats' terrific, threat-per-second guard, had poured in 17 of her game-high 20 points in the first three quarters and bedazzled all with here hesitation and change-of-direction dribble moves.
"She's the shiftiest player and such a great athlete," Bardic added. "She'd be good at any sport. She's Emily Fisher."
Fisher scored the game's final 2 points -- after Stevenson had produced a game-turning 13-0 run that started at the 5:19 mark of the fourth stanza. With Stevenson down 37-30, Patriots junior forward Kate Arne (7 points, 10 rebounds) scored a bucket and then hit a pair of free throws 41 seconds later.
Bardic struck for her lone 3-pointer with a little more than 3 minutes remaining, giving the visitors a 39-37 advantage. She made 2 more free throws before grabbing that key steal.
Williams (7 points) drilled 2 free throws, giving Bardic -- and Patriots Nation -- two more reasons to exhale.
"First, I'd like to note how well Libertyville played and how well Emily Fisher played," Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said after her squad improved to 21-1 overall, 9-0 in the NSC, and Libertyville slipped to 13-6, 5-2.
"Now," she added, "I'd like to credit our kids. Man, did we stick together in the fourth quarter. Our excellent traps led to some big steals. But our biggest thing today, and all season, is belief. Our players believe in themselves. That makes this group a special one."
The Penn-bound Sawyer paced the Patriots with 12 points. Her biggest shot, a 3-pointer at 7:19 of the fourth quarter, cut Libertyville's lead to 32-28. Pats sophomore guard/forward/rebound machine Emory Klatt finished with 8 points and a game-high 13 boards.
Wildcats sophomore guard Rachel Rule scored 8 of her 12 points after halftime, including a 3-point play that pared Stevenson's halftime lead to 19-17 in the first minute of the third quarter. Libertyville senior guard Libby Ryan tallied only 2 points but collected 2 steals and played steady, sturdy defense all day.
"We made some youthful mistakes there in the fourth quarter, but we played really well against (a highly-ranked state team)," Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said. "We showed much more resolve today than we did when we played them at their place."