Stevenson ends Round Lake's magical season
The hardest part of Stevenson freshman guard Nisha Musunuri's Friday night occurred on a ladder.
Wielding a pair of scissors in her right hand -- and sporting a jammed ring finger after the Class 4A Stevenson girls basketball regional final -- the Patriot snipped a basket net once, then twice, then thrice. Nothing.
She had failed to cut a piece of twine.
"Take a step up," a teammate told her.
Musunuri did just that and clipped away at least four more times before finally securing a strand of the net for a keepsake.
"That was difficult," the 14-year-old admitted after returning to hardwood.
About an hour earlier, Musunuri, one of Stevenson's top reserves, made basketball look super easy in Lincolnshire, notching a pair of steal-and-layups in the second quarter of Stevenson's 64-31 defeat of Round Lake. She suffered the injured digit while making the second steal.
"Nisha plays without fear; I love her confidence," Patriots coach Ashley Graham said after her program's second regional title in five seasons.
"She gets so excited when her number is called to enter the game. She plays lots of minutes, significant minutes. It would have been a disservice to her had I kept her on varsity and rarely played her."
Only about 90 seconds separated Musunuri's productive steals, with the second steal-and-layup swelling the hosts' lead to 26-8 at the 5:28 mark of the second quarter.
"My teammates have been great to me all season -- much more welcoming than I'd expected," said a grateful Musunuri (4 points), who also dished an assist to sophomore guard Kendell Williams (9 points) in the final minute of the second quarter.
The win set up Stevenson-Libertyville Part III, to be staged at a Warren sectional semifinal Tuesday at 6 p.m. First-seeded Stevenson (31-2) downed fifth-seeded Libertyville (23-10) twice in the regular season.
Ninth-seeded Round Lake (28-4) entered Friday night's regional final having amassed the most wins in a season in program history. Coach Molly Hennig's Panthers hung with formidable Stevenson briefly, trailing 28-16 late in the second quarter.
But Graham's squad unleashed a 22-2 run in the third quarter to go up -- way up -- 55-18. Pats sophomore guard/forward Emory Klatt struck for 7 of her 17 points in the impressive stretch.
Klatt, majoring in double-doubles this winter, also came down with a game-high 16 rebounds. Splendid senior guard Simone Sawyer paced Stevenson with 21 points, including a quartet of 3-pointers. Classmate and steady quarterback-in-sneakers Ava Bardic tossed in 8 points, and Patriots junior forward Kate Arne had 5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 blocks.
"Strong, in every position," Hennig said of the victors. "Deep, too. Their starters, their bench players ... all know their roles and play them well."
The Round Lake community's message to the Panthers: Well done.
The Panthers' fans were in full throat all night, even after Stevenson's big second-half lead triggered a running clock. Four Panthers tallied at least 5 points -- senior guard Taylor Major (9), senior center Amari Cole (7), sophomore forward Judith Cerroblanco (6) and junior guard Lilli Burton (5).
"Special team, special season," Hennig said. "I saw teardrops afterward, but I also noticed happiness. It was nice to see, all season, how much they enjoyed competing and playing for each other.
"Proud," she added. "I'm really proud of what we accomplished this season."