WOODSTOCK – For a Woodstock North offense that had struggled to score most of the fourth quarter, the Thunder needed to whittle away at Grayslake Central's eight-point lead quickly.
Thunder girls basketball coach Mike Lewis took a risk in the game's final minutes opting for a smaller lineup that was a threat behind the 3-point line but gave up size to the Rams in the paint.
His decision paid off. The Thunder, trailing the Rams by eight with 1:39 left in the game, fought back aided by a 2-2-1 full court press. Senior guard Kaitlin Chamberlain's 3-pointer with 20 seconds remaining gave the Thunder life, only down by two.
Woodstock North's full court pressure forced a Rams turnover with 16 seconds left to set up a chance for the win. Grayslake North's defense held it together, though, tipping Chamberlain's 3-point attempt and the ball fell short as time expired to give the Rams a 34-32 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division win.
"We got a really good look at the end," Lewis said. "I don't know if it would have went in our not, but it would have been nice to see without that tip. The kids fought really hard."
Woodstock North (15-11, 6-5 FVC Fox) managed to score only four points through the first six minutes of the fourth until it finally started hitting outside shots. Senior guard Emma Everly's 3-pointer and two free throws made it a one possession game, but the Rams (17-9, 10-1) responded on their next possession and extended their lead, 34-29, on Taylor Peterson's pair of free throws.
Woodstock North didn't become flustered but ran out of time to overcome the deficit. The Thunder scored more points in the game's final 1:27 (eight) than they scored during each of the first three quarters. Everly finished with a team-high 13 points and senior Sami Ahr added 10 points for the Thunder.
"We really wanted it," Everly said. "It was a little difficult because we were a lot smaller out there so it was tougher to guard [their forwards]."
A great defensive effort to start the game by an unexpected fivesome sparked the Thunder to a 13-10 halftime lead. Thursday's game was also senior night for nine Woodstock North players.
The usual starters, which included four seniors, chose to give their spots to their fellow senior teammates – some of whom rarely, if ever, started a varsity game. That group of seniors held Grayslake Central's offense in check as the Thunder trailed 2-0 when they came out of the game with 4:24 remaining in the first quarter.
"I thought it was really nice of the usual starters to give that up because it's their last game to start at home too," said senior Jen Conley, who started her first varsity game. "All five of us sat down and were like, 'Wow, they only scored two points.' We were shocked at how good we could actually do."
The five seniors found out at a meeting before the game they would start the Thunder's final home game. Lewis lauded their performance and wished he had been able to get them all back in the game.
"It feels really good that they trusted us like that," senior Jamie White said after starting her first varsity game. "You go out there and play like that, you feel really good. ... I thought our defense was good. We played hard."