The wins just keep coming for the Lyons Township High School girls basketball team.
Thanks to some buzzer-beating heroics from Jill Keeve, LT (10-17, 6-6) continued its remarkable winning streak on Saturday night, this time upsetting Oak Park and River Forest High School 41-39. The Lions have won five out of their last six, this time winning courtesy of what might come to be known as the Keeve-heave, considering the sophomore drained a 30-foot shot to give her team the win.
"I was wide open, so I thought I should probably shoot," she said. "The play was designed to go to [Lindsay] Blazek, but she was covered. I thought about passing it, but there was no time left, so I shot it and it went in. It was definitely the biggest shot I have ever made."
The miraculous LT win was especially unlikely, considering OPRF had seemingly iced the game just one play earlier. With 25 seconds left on the clock, LT was clinging to a 38-37 lead, but OPRF's Ashleen Bracey calmly let the clock wind down, saw an opening in the lane and dashed to the basket for a layup to give the Huskies the lead at 39-38.
The referee changed the clock, however, from 2.5 to 5 seconds, because he said LT had called timeout with 5 seconds remaining. The call was pivotal, allowing LT the precious seconds it needed to advance the ball up the court to set up Keeve's game-winning shot.
Though fans were treated to a fantastic finish, if the Lions had not shot a dismal 5-of-17 from the charity stripe, they would have most likely cruised to victory, and LT coach Dawn Schabacker probably would by minus some grey hairs.
"We have this thing at the end of practice where we have to make 10 free throws or we don't end practice," she said. "So, they want to end practice and they make them without any problems. I really don't know what happened tonight. We were a little disappointed when we went in at halftime and we talked about free throws. I told them if they made the free throws we would be ahead of them."
Things began well for LT, who started with an 8-0 run. Blazek established herself in the paint, scoring six first-quarter points and grabbing six rebounds, while Jessica Lee and Lauren Kazmierczak each scored a three-pointer to balance the attack. Consequently, the first quarter ended with LT in control 12-6.
The second quarter, however, was a much different story for LT, which scored just one field goal and played cautiously, while Oak Park's impressive duo of Amber Slaughter and Bracey became more active inside. In addition, two big three-pointers from Caley Hague enabled the Huskies to take an 18-15 halftime lead.
"We got into some foul trouble in the second quarter, and we were trying to take a little time off the clock," Schabacker said. "But, anytime you gamble like that you might end up turning the ball over more and giving them a chance to come back, which is exactly what happened. Still, I told the girls that we had to win the third quarter to put ourselves in a position to win the game."
Indeed, the Lions emerged from the locker room a team on a mission, returning to the inside-outside formula that worked so well in the first quarter. Also, LT also had some major contributions off its bench, with Amy Blackwood chipping in eight points, while Sara Hoffman also added some defensive punch.
The third ended with LT in the lead 30-28, and set up the action-packed fourth frame. Blazek, who paced the Lions with 12 points and 11 rebounds, realized how important the win was for her team.
"I think it is a great win for us," Blazek said. "When we played [OPRF] the first time, we got down a lot and we were unable to come back. But, I think our pre-season helped us to start playing well at the end of the season. I think the win today will definitely give us a lot of momentum heading into the regional."
While LT will certainly enjoy the win, the Lions don't get much time to savor it, taking on Loyola and Nazareth Academy on the road this week. Then the Lions venture to IHSA Regional held at Riverside-Brookfield High School on Feb. 13. Though the Lions are the No. 14 seed, Schabacker thinks her team is peaking at the right time and could surprise some people.
"I am very proud of the girls," she said. "After losing to a lot of teams the first time around in the conference, we came back and went back to back against Proviso East and Oak Park. I am hopeful this win will catapult us into our last week of the season and hopefully into the regional and who knows what could happen after that."