ELMHURST – Perhaps a season ago, overcoming a 10-point deficit midway through the second quarter and ultimately closing a game out in the fourth quarter for St. Charles East – against crosstown rival St. Charles North, no less – wouldn’t have been as predictably achievable.
This Saints team, however, has grown up.
”It’s a statement [performance] in the sense that St. Charles North is a very good team and very well-coached,” St. Charles East coach Michael Murphy said following the Saints’ 52-41 victory over the North Stars to win the York Thanksgiving tournament on Friday.
“I don’t know how [one wants to define] a statement win. I have the utmost respect for [North Stars] coach Mike Tomczak and their players. We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Murphy continued.
Despite a sloppy finish for both teams, St. Charles East earned its first win over St. Charles North since 2018.
“I feel like we’ve all matured a lot more. We just kind of all have trust in each other [that] we can come back no matter what, as long as we work together,” said Saints senior Torrie Kortan who had 19 points and four rebounds. “Honestly, this game wasn‘t even a very good one. We didn’t execute as well as we should’ve. We’re just very fortunate that we were able to pull it out.”
Kortan’s nine points from beyond the arc helped push the Saints (4-0, 1-0) to the finish line. They overcame 11 points from North Stars senior guard Alyssa Hughes’ in the fourth quarter that gave the North Stars (3-1, 0-1) a fighting chance.
“I feel like it comes down to maturity, honestly,” Kortan said. “I’ve just been out here [on varsity since she was a freshman] a little bit longer than everyone else. I was able to understand the time and place when to actually to start taking the shots on my own.”
After Hughes hit a three with 1:32 remaining, the Saints turned the ball over and Hughes’ layup cut the Saints’ lead to 52-41 with about a minute remaining.
The Saints and North Stars traded turnovers, but then the Saints then turned it over again in a see-saw finish. The North Stars were then tagged with an offensive foul, but the Saints again had another turnover with 27 seconds to go.
North Stars sophomore Reagan Sipla (15 points, two rebounds) was tagged with an offensive foul on the North Stars’ final possession to put a relative sour note on an otherwise solid tournament.
“I don’t exactly know what happened to us in that first quarter or the end of the fourth quarter,” Murphy said. “It was a very crazy game. They dominated us early. If there was more time left in the game, who knows what would‘ve happened? We probably don’t win that game last year. That’s what a year of experience does.”
“We play so well together,” said Saints sophomore guard Lexi DiOrio, who had nine points and five rebounds. “We know when people are hot; we find them the ball. Even if our shots aren’t falling, we still continue to shoot it, practice shooting consistency. I think just being able to trust each other and being such good teammates on the court [and off shows].”
Only three North Stars scored. Hughes had 19 points, Sipla 15 and Erin Stack added seven. Some of the defensive breakdowns – and the Saints simply hitting shots – ultimately took their toll.
“I think if you look at [up until] the last 60 seconds of the second quarter, I think we were in control of the game on the defensive side of the ball. We were in gaps. We were rotating over. I think we took them out of a lot of things that they wanted to do,” Tomczak said. “We weren’t really giving up the driving lanes. They’re really good at driving-and-kicking. We kind of took those away.”
”…The last minute or so, we got a little lazy, we had a couple fouls. They outworked us on the glass and then we go in 20-19 [at the break]. Going into the locker room 20-19 is a lot different than going to the locker room 20-11. When there is a team like that and they shoot the ball the way that they do, they get hot and a tie game can turn into a real big mountain real quick.”
Just four games into the young season, Friday was perhaps a bit of a preview to how competitive DuKane Conference play will be in the coming months.
”No surprise, I think the DuKane Conference is going to be loaded again,” Tomczak said. “I think East is going to be a real good team this year. They’re going to have a strong season. They’ve got a lot of experience coming back. They shoot the ball pretty well. They’re going to be right there. You’ve got the Genevas. Batavia has got some tough players. It’s a tough conference.“