Grayslake Central shakes off St. Viator, barely
Grayslake Central basketball forward Piper Gallaher held her hands to the side, because that's what goalies do in soccer (her position in her spring sport). She then shook them vigorously, as if air-drying them.
The sophomore was hoping to shake the nerves from her trusty hands after missing a key free throw in the final minute of Thursday night's Class 3A Crystal Lake South sectional championship game against St. Viator.
"My mom and I, when we get nervous, we [shake our hands]," Gallaher said. "I feel like it calms me down and releases everything, Any bad vibes or bad thoughts I have just go away."
Gallaher missed her next free throw, but it was her poise all night in the biggest game of her rookie season as a varsity basketball player that helped the Rams live up to their top seed. Kate Bullman had 15 points and 13 rebounds, MK Drevline scored 8 of her 14 points in the pivotal fourth quarter, and Grayslake Central held off the seventh-seeded Lions 54-48.
Sophomore guard Joy Bergstrom scored a game-high 16 points to lead St. Viator (14-17), which was seeking its second sectional title in as many years. Sophomore point guard Nora Ahram added 14 points for the Lions, and Emma Morrisey had 9 on three 3-pointers.
"They're no (No.) 7 seed," Rams coach Steve Ikenn said. "They're a very talented, really well-coached team, and they played like it. They gave us everything they had. They made us work real hard."
With its school-record-tying 30th win and 22nd in a row, Grayslake Central (30-3) advanced to Monday's 7 p.m. Elgin Community College supersectional to face Montini (30-4). It's the Rams' first sectional title since 2011.
"We just want to keep winning, one game at a time," said Drevline, who drained three 3-pointers, with her last coming with 4:52 to go in the fourth to extend the Rams' lead to 44-39.
The 5-foot-11 Gallaher came off the bench to score 8 points and grab 7 rebounds, including a pair on the offensive glass in the fourth. And, actually, she says she wasn't nervous down the stretch because of the support of her teammates, whom she calls some of her best friends.
"They calm me down out there," Gallaher said.
"I thought she played outstanding," Ikenn said. "She threw her body all over the floor."
True. Gallaher also had a pair of steals, both coming thanks to hitting the court hard.
"I love her game," Bullman said. "She will do anything for the win. She will dive on the floor, she'll hurt herself, she'll just put her body on the line for the win."
After trailing by as many as 11 points in the first half and 29-22 at the break, St. Viator focused its defensive efforts on Bullman (three 3s) in the second half. The Lions limited the Illinois State-bound guard to 1 field goal, which came on a turnaround shot on the baseline midway through the fourth.
St. Viator twice cut its deficit to 2 points in the fourth but got no closer, despite Grayslake Central missing 7 free throws in the final 1:01. Two free throws by Bergstron got the Lions within 50-46 with 36.7 seconds left, by 1 free throw by Bullman and 2 by Drevline helped the Rams pull it out.
"We were all confident that we were going to pull through," Drevline said. "We were working together."
It's what the Rams have done all season.