Steffens steps up as Stevenson prevails
It was the rivalry game everyone expected between Libertyville and Stevenson -- especially in the third meeting between the teams this season.
What made the difference in the final seconds was a single free throw from the Patriots' Klaire Steffens with 4.4 seconds left.
Sixth-seeded Stevenson held off No. 11 Libertyville 39-35 in a Class 4A Highland Park girls basketball regional semifinal on Tuesday night.
Steffens produced a double-double, scoring 11 points and a gathering a career-best 17 rebounds in leading the Patriots (16-12). Kiana Cencula also had a team-high 11 points, which included three 3-point baskets.
Steffens' free throw came after Stevenson had missed four prior free throw attempts in the final 90 seconds.
"Well, when I had two, I missed the first one," Steffens said. "I'm like, OK, I only have one. I just focused on it and everyone had a lot of confidence in me. It also gave me a lot of confidence in myself."
Libertyville (14-14) had rallied from a 12-point third-quarter deficit (at 32-20) but got within 3 points at 38-35. The Wildcats had chances to tie it a few times in the final minute before the Steffens free throw.
"Whew!" Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said. "It's tough to play (Libertyville), and there's so much parity in our conference this year and when you're playing a team that you're extremely familiar with. We have the upmost respect for (Libertyville). They have young kids, but that's experienced, young-looking kids out there and they don't back down from anything. (Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen) had them extremely well-prepared. You have to give credit where credit is due. They made their run and it happened to be in the fourth quarter.
"I'm proud of our kids to withstand that. We talk a lot about finishing basketball games. We've been up and down in that category this year. To get one at the most important time of the year is special."
The Wildcats clawed their way back with some timely shots before late turnovers and missed 3-point chances sealed their fate.
The Patriots' Krissy Hills had a key steal, and Isabella Paldrmic had a big block with 7 seconds left.
"It's fun to be with this team and it's been fun all year," Libertyville coach Pedersen said. "They try so hard and they aim to play so well. They've gotten so much better from the beginning of the year. We're getting older and wiser, and bigger and stronger. The whole thing comes back next year. We've been in a good spot and feel good about the season."
Maddie Spaulding led the Wildcats with 10 points, while Lauren Huber and Morgan Manski each added 9.
Stevenson next plays third-seeded Palatine (22-7) in a regional final at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Pirates won their semifinal over host Highland Park 49-26.