MAPLE PARK — McKenzie Schueler drained a 3-pointer with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter to break a tie and propel the Kaneland girls basketball team to a 39-34 win over La Salle-Peru in an Interstate 8 Conference battle Wednesday.
“We were just trying to get an open shot and we were moving the ball really well that play,” Schueler said. “I ended up being open. I took it and hit it.”
On the ensuing possession for the Cavaliers (18-9, 7-6 I-8), Addison Duttlinger drove to the hoop, but her shot was rejected by Katharine Marshall. The Knights (17-12, 10-3) missed a free throw at the other end, but Olivia Sheehan grabbed her 19th rebound of the game and found Schueler for the putback.
“I think that gave our team a really good spark,” Schueler said of Marshall’s block. “We knew whenever we came down on offense the next time we needed to take care of the ball really well.”
The sequence secured the Knights a win in their final regular-season game before opening the Class 3A Rochelle Regional on Tuesday.
“A big 3 from Kenz,” Kaneland coach Kelsey Flanagan said. “A lot of confidence for her to step up and take that shot. Knocked it down, then an absolutely big defensive play there from Kat to help us get possession back and be able to ice it.”
The Cavs trailed most of the game, but Brooklyn Ficek scored the final five points of the third quarter to push L-P to a 32-30 lead heading into the fourth, part of a game-high 18 points for the junior.
Sheehan started the scoring more than two minutes into the fourth quarter with a bucket, then a steal and a layup by Marshall gave the Knights the lead with 4:48 left.
Duttlinger tied it at 34 on a layup with 2:27 left, but Schueler answered at the other end. Duttlinger finished with seven points off the bench, and no other Cavalier scored more than five.
“She’s maybe one of the best players in the conference,” L-P coach Hollis Vickery said of Ficek. “But we have to have other people scoring, too. It’s a team effort. We all contributed at the end to not finishing. We have to finish better.”
Vickery said the long stretch without scoring to open the fourth – they went more than 5:30 without any points – proved costly in the loss.
“If we hit a 3, if we hit a wide-open layup, a few free throws it’s over,” Vickery said. “We didn’t do that. In tight games you have to do that. You have to make free throws. You have to make layups. You have to make stops, too. But give them credit. The girls who hit the 3 at the end, we totally fell asleep. You can’t fall asleep in a tight game.”
Schueler scored 14 for thee Knights and Marshall finished with 10. A 5-foot-6 sophomore, Duttlinger led the Cavaliers with eight rebounds, and Jenisis Greening added six.
Flanagan said once the team started focusing more on Ficek, the Knights were able to hinder the L-P offense.
“Ficek, she’s pretty tough to guard,” Flanagan said. “Being keyed in on her a lot, we had lots of people collapsing in the lane, but that opened them up the opportunity to get some offensive rebounds and chip away at the lead. Then we made a couple mistakes. But we kept our composure, and I was glad to see that heading into the postseason we were able to execute coming down the stretch.”