Downers Grove North battles back from the brink of elimination

 
 
Updated 2/18/2022 10:26 PM

Ryann Wendt realizes that Downers Grove North is not exactly a team constructed to spot a team a double-digit lead.

The Trojans have won big in recent years with a style predicated on defense, rebounding and a methodical offense.

 

Desperate times, though, call for desperate measures.

"I think going down 11 puts it in perspective for you that your season is on the line," said Wendt, Downers North's 5-foot-11 senior guard. "You got to fight tooth and nail."

Indeed, the Trojans' determination showed in dire straits. Wendt scored nine of her game-high 15 points in a pivotal stretch to end the first half, and third-seeded Downers North held 10th-seeded scoreless for a nearly nine-minute stretch bridging the second and third quarters. It turned the game around, and then the Trojans weathered shaky free-throw shooting late for a 32-27 win in the Class 4A Oswego East regional final.

"They're better than a 10 seed, I'll tell you that," Trojans coach Stephan Bolt said of Oswego East. "They played a tough schedule, they're a tough team and they gave it to us right from the tip. I thought our kids did a good time after halftime of battling back and just getting stops."

Two years after Downers Grove North reached a sectional final for the first time, the Trojans are back in sectionals, where they'll play second-seeded Naperville North on Tuesday at East Aurora. The Trojans lost to the Huskies 58-31 in January.

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Wendt is one of six seniors who were a part of that 2020 group. It's been a long road back. The Trojans lost a postseason last year with their entire group back. They've persevered through COVID-19 shutdowns and injuries, with senior Eleanor Harris still out with a sprained ankle.

"I'm proud of them. It speaks to what they've gone through, too," Bolt said. "I think the last two years has been hard for everybody, but we've had injuries, we've had COVID shutdowns -- the amount of adversity we've endured and to find a way being down 11 that speaks to what they've been able to do."

Oswego East (14-17), playing for its second regional title on its home floor, got out fast. Senior guard Cydnei Mitchell, a transfer from Downers Grove South, scored six points and had two steals to fuel a 13-4 lead after a quarter. The lead grew to 18-7 on Riley Doggett's second 3-pointer, off a Mitchell kick, with 3:18 left in the second quarter.

But the Wolves didn't score again until Maggie Lewandowski's basket with 2:25 left in the third quarter, ending a 14-0 Downers North run. The Wolves scored a combined seven points in the middle two quarters, managed three field goals in the second half and had just seven shot attempts in the third quarter after leading 18-14 at half.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We defended them well all game," Oswego East coach Abe Carretto said. "They do a good job of making you work and getting the better shot, especially when they got the lead. They made a run and then third quarter we just struggled to get shots off."

Kaitlyn Parker's steal and score with 5:38 left in the third gave Downers North its first lead, 19-18, since the game's first basket, and lead for good.

"Honestly with the defense, the urgency was just at a much higher level," Bolt said. "They had no choice, and we helped each other and recovered way better than in the first half. Did a better job of containing the dribble."

Wendt, held scoreless the first quarter and a half, was the catalyst to Downers North's comeback.

She scored the Trojans' last nine points of the first half, and had six more in the third quarter, most of her points catching the ball on cuts to the basket. Her score off a Kate Gross pass sent the Trojans into the fourth quarter leading 25-20.

"We were having a hard time getting things going so we ran a couple set pieces that we pull out in games if we need to get on a run," Wendt said. "I just happened to be the person we went to."

Downers North, though, missed five straight free throws in the fourth quarter, the last four in the final minute, and the Trojans made just 7-for-15 in the fourth.

It allowed Oswego East's Maddie Stockley, whose two free throws with 55.6 seconds closed her team within 30-27, a shot for the tie. But her long 3 from the left wing was off target.

Doggett had eight points and 10 rebounds for Oswego East. Parker scored 7 for Downers North.

"I couldn't be more proud of the girls on our team," Carretto said. "We did a lot of good things tonight. I just wish we could have put a little more pressure on them to make them work harder."

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