Girls Basketball

Girls Basketball: Torrie Kortan, St. Charles East ease past Lake Park for long-awaited win ‘It’s really just relief’

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ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East senior Torrie Kortan smiled just a little more than usual following the Saints’ 51-45 DuKane Conference victory over Lake Park Thursday night in St. Charles.

It had been a long time. Thirty-three days to be exact.

For a team that started the season with such promise — a championship at York’s Thanksgiving Tournament and a 10-1 record — the Saints had not won a game since beating St. Charles North on Dec. 17.

They have been through a lot since, starting with a COVID pause, then a coaching change and finally a return to play only to run into Geneva, Wheaton North, Nazareth and Batavia — and they lost them all.

So it’s no wonder Kortan and her teammates were feeling so good Thursday night, that happiness mixed with a sense of relief.

“We had to start back from square one,” said Kortan, who scored a game-high 20 points including a pair of free throws with 54 seconds remaining that broke a 44-44 tie. “I’m counting this as a new season in my opinion.

“It’s really just relief. I feel like it’s a fresh start. We came back and the games we came back to was the hardest lineup of our whole season. It (the win) feels good because we were all doubting ourselves. We’re not doubting ourselves anymore. We feel good.”

So does interim coach Josh Foster. He replaced Michael Murphy, who resigned for personal reasons.

Foster said the team gained confidence from the final quarter of its most recent game. They decided to trap more and push the pace against the Lancers.

“It has been a long month and a half or whatever it was,” Foster said. “This feels great.

“The best place you can be in life is in the gym playing basketball. Let everything else stay outside the gym. We’re just trying to get a little bit better every day.”

After a slow start that saw St. Charles East (11-5, 4-4) hit just 3 of 12 shots in the first quarter to fall behind 13-11, the Saints scored the final 10 points of the second quarter to take a 24-17 halftime lead. Eight of those points came after Lake Park senior Sara Balli went to the bench with her third foul.

Lake Park (12-9, 2-6) trailed 40-30 after three quarters before Balli led a comeback. After Lancers junior Ellie Helm opened the quarter with two inside scores, Balli connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to pull within 42-40 with 5:22 remaining.

Kortan and Michela Barbanente traded baskets to keep the Saints ahead 44-42 before Balli’s two free throws tied the game with 1:12 to go.

Kortan drove and drew a foul. On a night the rest of the Saints made just 1 of 8 at the line, Kortan sank 10 of 13 including both for a 46-44 lead.

Barbanente split free throws to leave the Lancers down 46-45. Lake Park fouled Alexis Maridis who also split free throws with :28.9 left, and she hustled to the corner to grab a long rebound on the miss.

Lake Park eventually fouled Kortan who made both for a two-possession lead. After a Lancers turnover, Kortan capped the win with a layup.

“She’s a great player,” Foster said of Kortan. “She does so much for us not just scoring. She’s the rock of this team. Without her it would have fallen apart a long time ago. She’s everything you want.”

The Saints also got strong games from Maridis (seven points, nine rebounds) and Cali Papez (six points, nine rebounds). Emma Yakey and Lexi Diorio both hit a pair of 3s to combine for 12 points, while reserves Olivia Kiefer and Kristen Erickson added 3s.

They needed them all to hold off the Lancers, who were paced by Barbanente’s 14 points and 10 rebounds. Balli scored 11, Helm finished with seven points and nine rebounds, and Grace Cord came off the bench for six points and five rebounds.

“When it counted we didn’t get the job done down the stretch,” Lake Park coach Brian Rupp said. “Free throws, we hit free throws it’s a different game.”

Lake Park, coming off a loss to St. Charles North at the buzzer on Tuesday, hit just 6 of 13 at the line.

“We have to try to regroup,” Rupp said. “And we have a tough three games next week too. We have to find ways to win.”