In battle of unbeatens, Wheaton North takes clutch win at Lake Park
Wheaton North took Lake Park's best shot. Then the Falcons gave as good as they got.
When the host Lancers came from behind to take the lead with just a minute to go in Saturday afternoon's DuKane Conference girls basketball game, the Falcons didn't fold. The Falcons rewarded themselves with a 48-43 victory in Roselle that determined which team remained undefeated.
"It was great," said Falcons senior Sarah Topps. "Our team, we just worked together and grinded it out, even though they came close to coming back. We stuck together and stuck to our mentality, going 1-0. Got the dub."
Down as many as 15 points in the first half, Lake Park (7-1, 1-1) stuck to its own mentality also. The Lancers stayed close through the first three quarters, then used a 10-0 run to take the lead. Senior Payton Skalski started the Lancers' run with a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 5 with 2:03 to play, one of two she made in the final quarter.
"That's huge," said Lake Park coach Brian Rupp, whose team was without injured senior point guard Kate Kirkham. "That's huge for us."
Darrione Rogers' three-point play tied the game at 41 with 1:12 to go, and her two free throws with 1:01 left gave Lake Park its only lead.
Wheaton North senior Nikki Baird evened the game at 43, and Topps hit two free throws to put the Falcons (6-0, 2-0) back in front with 21.6 seconds left.
"We practice stuff like that all the time, and just going and knowing that I was going to hit those free throws felt so good," Topps said.
Falcons sophomore Ellie Hubbard stole the ensuing inbounds pass and assisted Topps on a short jumper to make the score 47-43. Freshman Claire Hyde added a free throw in the final seconds.
"That was great composure for kids who are in their first year of playing (varsity) basketball," said Wheaton North coach Dave Eaton, who also had freshman Caroline Gaither on the floor down the stretch. "I thought those kids were great. And I thought Nikki played the way Nikki needs to play. She wanted to be a Division I player, she sure looked like that on the floor today."
Baird, a Belmont University recruit, finished with a team-high 20 points despite tight defense by Lancers sophomore Emma Thorne. Baird also had 9 rebounds, 5 steals and a block.
Playing with an injured elbow, Topps scored 13 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. Hubbard added 9 points.
"That's Sarah Topps for us," Eaton said, estimating Topps' elbow at 50 percent health. "She's been one of those kids that's been clutch this whole season for us this year, and I think for her, the way she's playing is fantastic. So I was really proud of how she stepped up down the stretch."
Wheaton North took a double-digit lead almost from the opening tipoff. The Falcons scored the game's first 11 points and made 5 of their first six 3-point shots.
Rogers, a DePaul-bound junior, often dealt with aggressive double- or triple-team defense. Rogers still finished with 25 points, 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 5 blocks.
"I couldn't be happier with the effort," Rupp said. "I mean, take away that first, really, four minutes. ... I mean that cost us the game right there. But our effort was there. Can't fault the effort. It was a good game for us."