Big second-half run carries Stevenson past Libertyville
March 13, 2021.
"I remember that date like it was yesterday," Stevenson girls basketball coach Ashley Graham said Friday night before her Patriots hosted Libertyville's Wildcats in a North Suburban Conference showdown.
"That was a good day for us," recalled Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen, whose Wildcats, on that day, defeated Stevenson 52-48 in the final of the first NSC tournament, which served as the teams' postseason in a truncated season due to the pandemic.
Stevenson avenged that loss -- emphatically and impressively -- Friday night, using a 17-0 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters en route to a 51-28 victory in Lincolnshire.
The Patriots (6-1, 2-0), up 22-14 at the half, led 29-24 at the 2:57 mark of the third frame. Seven seconds later, Stevenson senior guard Simone Sawyer (game-high 17 points) hit the first of her consecutive 3-pointers -- the second trey would come 29 seconds later.
The electric Sawyer capped the scoring in the quarter with a bucket and then netted a pair of fourth-quarter field goals at the end of the breathless, game-turning burst.
That made it Stevenson 46, Libertyville 24, just like that, with 6:33 left in the fourth stanza.
"Basketball," Graham said, "is a game of runs. We got hot, and our players fed off each other's energy during that big run.
"I was really proud of our leadership and our ability to stick together. It was up and down, for a while, at the start of the third quarter. But we never wavered. I could see it in our players' eyes -- their determination, their belief."
Graham saw her indispensable point guard, senior Ava Bardic, set the program record for career 3-pointers made. Bardic needed two 3-pointers to supplant graduate Ashley Richardson's mark (153) on Friday night; Bardic drained 4 from beyond the arc (in a 14-point night), increasing her career total to 156.
"I'm so proud of Ava," said Sawyer, who has been friends with Bardic since the first grade. "She's an amazing passer and shooter and leader."
Stevenson sophomore guard/forward Emory Klatt, in two words: amazing rebounder. The 6-foot-1 force in the paint snared 14 more boards to go with 10 points and 5 steals, including 4 acts of thievery in the second half.
Stevenson's inspired defense limited Libertyville junior guard and Maryland recruit Emily Fisher to 2 points in the first half; the future Terrapin finished with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
"Emily Fisher," Graham said, "is one of the most special players I've scouted in my 10 years of coaching. But our win tonight wasn't just about playing tough defense on Emily; she has threats around her."
Sophomore guard Rachel Rule also tallied 6 points for Libertyville (4-3, 1-1). Rachel's twin, relentless guard Kate Rule, senior forward Kristina Kotzan and sophomore guard Sophia Weick each scored 5 points. Kotzan also came down with 6 rebounds.
"We left way too many shooters open," Pedersen admitted. "Credit Stevenson for knocking down some big shots. That's a veteran team, with well-trained shooters. Our young players are in the process of learning the importance of playing varsity defense.
Junior forward Kate Arne contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds for Stevenson, and Pats sophomore guard Kendell Williams (7 rebounds) had 2 steals in the first quarter, when the hosts allowed only 7 points. Williams played marvelous defense on Fisher all night.
"Every player played well for us," said Sawyer, who hit 3 of Stevenson's 7 3-pointers. "The first half was too back-and-forth. We entered the second half thinking, 'This is it. Let's bring the energy.'
"We did that. And then we sustained it."