Girls Basketball: Alyssa Hughes’ free throws save St. Charles North in 52-50 OT win over Lake Park

St. Charles North's Alyssa Hughes (3) takes a shot around the Geneva defense during Thursday’s girls basketball game in St. Charles.

ROSELLE – St. Charles North coach Mike Tomczak won’t pretend he wanted a one possession game decided in the final seconds, but the experience and situational basketball lessons being played out could very well prove to be vital come the postseason in a few weeks.

This time, it was St. Charles North senior Alyssa Hughes ensuring the positive result in the North Stars’ favor in a wild 52-50 victory in overtime over Lake Park.

Hughes, the Washington University St. Louis commit, converted a pair of free throws with 1.8 seconds left and Elle Fuhr’s defensive deflection on the ensuing inbound cemented the wild finish.

“There’s no way to simulate that type of experience in practice,” Tomczak said. “You just can’t. You can put time on the clock and say ‘Hey, down two [with] 10 seconds’ but it doesn’t feel that way. For us to have that experience and be given that, especially before the playoffs, in a hostile environment with the band playing and the other team competing, that’s invaluable experience.”

It took a marathon to ultimately reach that point.

The North Stars had a nine-point lead with 4:33 left in regulation, but it evaporated on the backs of timely shooting from Lancers freshmen guards Allie Gogola and Maggie Frank. Gogola converted a three-point play after making a layup and later hit a layup to pull within 37-33. Frank and Grace Cord followed with back-to-back 3-pointers for the sudden two-point lead with 2:04 left.

St. Charles North junior Katrina Stack answered with a 3-pointer, but Lake Park’s Michela Barbanente countered with a layup and missed the free throw for the slim one-point lead.

North Stars guard Julia Larson hit a layup with 29 seconds left, but Barbanente connected on a free throw with 19 seconds left to ensure overtime.

Later, with 1:25 left in overtime, guard Laney Stark backed down in the paint for a turnaround jumper to put the North Stars up 48-44, but it was again Gogola with the answering 3-pointer with 1:09 left.

Lake Park’s Barbanente was tagged with a foul on the inbound, so Reagan Sipla went 1-for-2 at the line, as did Hughes moments later, for the three-point North lead. Gogola, however, hit yet another 3-pointer with 36 seconds left to tie it at 50.

With two seconds left, Hughes drove to the paint and drew a foul on Gogola on the rebound attempt. Hughes took care of the rest.

Lake Park coach Brian Rupp was encouraged by his team’s effort despite the loss.

“The way we’re ending our season right now is a perfect way to end it,” Rupp said. “Win or lose, we are playoff ready. We were [within] three points [on Tuesday] against Glenbrook South. Tonight, overtime against a 23-5 team. This is a good time to be doing this stuff right now. To have people in foul’s just trying to find our groove against a team like that is very difficult to do. [We were] hanging in there as much as we could in a spot where we probably had a chance to win it, that’s how you can win a playoff series.”

Gogola, who finished with 18 points, figures to have a sizable role in that process moving forward.

“I definitely feel like I was in my shell at the beginning [of the season] coming into this new team as a freshman,” Gogola said. “I didn’t really click right away, but definitely getting to know my teammates and them bringing me up; Barbabente has incredible energy on the court. Everyone’s spirit when we make those big shots really brings brings [my confidence] through.”

“We don’t teach runners. She does that stuff on her own,” Rupp said on Gogola. “But, she’s crafty. She gets in the paint and she’s able to convert it. I’m not going to tell her to stop doing that... She’s going to be a great player and learning how to hit big shots.”

Barbanente finished with 11 points and six rebounds, while Ashlyn Smith had seven points. Cord had five points and 10 rebounds for the Lancers (14-13, 6-6).

For St. Charles North (23-5, 10-2), Stark led with 20 points and broke the program single-season record with 86 total steals on the season. Hughes had 10 points and Julia Larson had nine. Sipla had three points.

“They were giving me space in the middle and I like taking it to the hoop,” Stark said on her potent offensive night.