CRYSTAL LAKE – Crystal Lake South’s Rachel Rasmussen hit big shots throughout the game and finished with a game-high 16 points.
The Gators’ Lauren Del Vecchio hit a hot streak in the middle of the game with three consecutive jumpers from about 16 feet away.
But South’s two biggest points may have come from senior guard Kelly Ryan, who played all of about 10 seconds. With South and Prairie Ridge both mired in fourth-quarter funks, Ryan replaced injured Sara Mickow and drained a pair of free throws to end a 6-minute scoring drought and give the Gators a five-point lead.
After that, the points came easier and South held off the Wolves, 41-37, in their Fox Valley Conference Valley Division girls basketball game Saturday at Gator Alley.
Ryan’s sample size before Saturday was small – she was 2 for 2 from the line in varsity games – but Gators coach Kyle McCaughn picked her when Mickow suffered a sprained left ankle after getting knocked down while driving for a layup.
“I was mainly concerned about Sara at first,” Ryan said. “I just knew what I had to do. I work hard [on free throws] in practice. I was thinking, ‘I need to put these in and get up the confidence.’ That kind of gave us a little momentum.”
Ryan came out on the next dead ball, but she had done enough to help the Gators (18-6 overall, 6-3 FVC Valley).
“That was huge. That’s what a senior does,” McCaughn said. “She’s worked hard, and there she gets the opportunity and delivers. I could not be more proud of her.”
The fourth quarter was scoreless on both sides until Alex Neckopulos made a free throw with 2:51 remaining to cut South’s lead to 33-30. On the next possession, Mickow drove the left side and was fouled by Neckopulos. Mickow could not get up on her own and was helped off the floor by McCaughn and South trainer Kevin Gerlach. She was on crutches with a splint on her ankle following the game, although McCaughn was not sure of the extent of the injury at that time.
Ryan came in and swished both shots for a 35-30 lead. Chanel Fanter got a layup and Rasmussen made 3 of 4 free throws after that.
“Kelly’s one of our best free-throw shooters and those really brought some momentum,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen hit three 3-pointers, two in the first quarter to get the Gators going. She also was 5 of 6 at the line.
“We knew we were going to have to make some key shots like that,” Rasmussen said. “In practice, we’ve been working on coming off screens and being ready to shoot.”
Kelsey Bear led Prairie Ridge (14-9, 4-6) with 16 points and Sarah LeBeau made three 3s for nine points. The teams battled back and forth the first three quarters with LeBeau’s 3 giving the Wolves a 27-26 lead with 3:27 remaining in the third quarter. Rasmussen’s 3 a minute later put the Gators ahead for good.
“[South] played great defense and we just didn’t make some shots,” Wolves coach Rob Baker said. “I can’t fault any of our girls’ efforts. We just don’t execute some times, but we’ll keep working on it and hopefully at the end of the season we’ll execute.”