Wheaton North rallies late to top Lake Park
When the final second ticked off the clock, the Wheaton North girls celebrated as if they had just clinched a conference title or claimed a regional, but in fact it was just a road victory in the rugged DuKane Conference.
The Falcons, who trailed for much of the night, had just used an impressive 21-13 charge in the final quarter to pull out a 55-48 win at Lake Park. Don't let the host Lancers' subpar DuKane record fool anyone, as they proved again Thursday night that they're certainly no pushover.
"Wow, that was quite the game right there," Falcons coach Dave Eaton said after his team managed to improve to 17-5 overall and 8-2 in the conference. "This is what we've talked about, our conference top to bottom is loaded. Trying to get a win, it's like the Big 10. Going on the road to get a win is almost impossible."
For much of the night it looked like a road win might just prove to be too much to ask as Lake Park (12-11, 2-8) led 25-18 at the half, clung to a 35-34 lead after three quarters, and opened the final quarter with a 3-point basket from Sara Balli.
But Wheaton North and it's 1-2 punch of star guards Claire Hyde and Sara Abdul were just too much on the night, especially in the second half. Hyde finished with a game-high 24 points and 8 rebounds, and Abdul, only a freshman, tallied 16 of her 20 points in the second half as the visitors completed their season sweep of Lake Park.
"Definitely, battle is a great word for it," said Hyde, who scored seven points in the decisive fourth quarter. "They played great and they came out firing and their shots were going in.
"We didn't come out with the energy we wanted to but then the second half, we always say it's zero-zero at the half, we just regrouped and got ourselves fired up."
The Falcons' pressure defense also played a key role on Thursday, forcing the Lancers into 13 second-half turnovers.
"We have a great team. We play together well and when adversity hits we know how to come together as a team," Hyde added. "We love the energy that the defense brings to us. It hypes up the bench when we get turnovers or charges ... we're just on a roll."
Abdul knocked down the first two of her three 3s for the game in the third quarter as Wheaton North clawed back to within one at 35-34. Like Hyde, she also tallied seven more points in the final quarter to help seal the victory.
"At halftime we knew we weren't playing well," the freshman point guard said. "We knew we had to work together as a team and fight through it. I just knew I had to step up a little. Claire stepped up really big and we just wanted it more toward the end and that showed with the score."
Grace Cord paced the Lancers with 14 points and 6 rebounds, while Michela Barbanente had 11 points and 8 boards.
"It was a great high school basketball game but you've got to find a way to push through those third and fourth quarters against really good teams," Lancers coach Brian Rupp said. "That seems to be what's been our crutch this whole season.
"Whether we tired out or they just made shots, we can't give up 21 points in the fourth quarter. But you can't stop Claire Hyde, she's a beast. We're prepping for the postseason now."