Libertyville sees its way past Lake Zurich, to NSC title
Lose a contact lens.
Win a North Suburban Conference girls basketball title.
Libertyville did both, in that order, against Lake Zurich Friday night on the home floor. Wildcats guard Brooke Bair -- one of four seniors recognized on Senior Night -- lost a lens in a lane shortly after coming down with an offensive rebound in the third quarter.
Bair and teammates and referees searched and searched for the thin thing, to no avail.
Bair then hustled to Libertyville's locker room to get a backup lens.
"We didn't want to play without Brooke at that point," Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said. "She was giving us energy, keeping possessions alive with her offensive rebounds (3 in the third quarter)."
Sophomore teammate Kristina Kotzan later found the lens and handed it to Bair (5 rebounds) for a most valuable assist.
The best vision of the night for Libertyville? The final numbers on the scoreboard: Libertyville 42, Lake Zurich 28.
The victory secured the Wildcats' second NSC championship in as many seasons under Pedersen, the Wildcats' varsity boss since 2012.
"Our goal was to hold Lake Zurich under 40 points and to score more than 40 points," said Pedersen. "Our defensive energy got better when we went with a smaller lineup, and (5-foot-7 junior guard) Marianna Morrissey provided that boost once again for us."
Lydia Crow (9 points, 4 rebound) gave the home fans something to crow about when she hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds after the tip. But Lake Zurich (14-11, 7-5) allowed only 7 more points in the first quarter.
"Lake Zurich is a tough team, a tough-minded team," Pedersen said after his club won its 19th straight game and improved to 23-4, 12-1.
The hosts produced runs of 7-0 and 6-0 in the second quarter and led 23-11 at intermission. That 6-0 stretch was all Margaret Buchert (11 points), with a field goal, followed by a free throw, followed by a 3-pointer. And she needed only 39 seconds to swell Libertyville's advantage to 23-9.
Lake Zurich freshman guard Baylie Parks (8 rebounds) answered Buchert's third-quarter-opening triple with a triple of her own. Buchert responded with a basket 10 seconds later in a frame in which each side scored 11 points.
"Our kids battled, played aggressively, played hard," said Bears coach Chris Bennett, who found out Thursday that top-notch senior guard Ella Gilbertson will miss the rest of the season with a severe ankle injury. "I'm proud of them. But we still have stuff we need to clean up.
"Man, that Libertyville team is good and unselfish," he added. "It's a team with threats, so many threats. It's a team with four girls averaging 10 or more points, with each capable of scoring 20 on any night. Libertyville plays team basketball."
Wildcats junior guard Lauren Huber struck for 7 of Libertyville's 10 points in the first quarter, including a 3-pointer with 5 seconds remaining, and finished with a game-high 12 points. But she showed no signs that she was thrilled about hitting the big shot, as she hustled to the bench for the break between quarters.
Libertyville, Huber's serious look announced to all, needed to play a better brand of ball for the next 24 minutes.
Consummate leaders don't always need words to inspire.
"Credit to my players," said Pedersen, whose players topped Lake Zurich 58-45 in the teams' first meeting on Jan. 8. "They put individual stats behind team success. If one, only one, were selfish, this wouldn't work. I'd have a team that would have to deal with drama."
Wildcats freshman guard Emily Fisher scored 5 points and grabbed 5 boards for the NSC champs; senior teammate Abigail Frea collected a team-high 7 rebounds. LZ freshman guard Brooke Wahlund (7 rebounds) paced her squad with 8 points, with 4 coming in a 28-second span in the third quarter.