OSWEGO – Cami Phillips is Oswego East’s defensive stopper, but she’s also a wizard with the dribble.
The Wolves’ 5-foot-5 sophomore guard isn’t afraid to go behind the back or through the legs, and is ultra-quick with the ball. She’s fun to watch. She can’t be fun to defend.
Her yo-yo skills with the ball shouldn’t surprise. While in quarantine last year, Phillips said she spent hours with her dad every day honing her dribble.
“My dad helps me with everything, dribbling with weighted gloves, goggles, all of it,” Phillips said. “I do practice dribbling a lot so in game situations I can get my shot off.”
Her shot was sure on Tuesday.
Phillips hit four 3-pointers and scored a career-high 20 points, helping the 10th-seeded Wolves east past sixth-seeded Naperville Central 55-41 in the Class 4A Oswego East Regional semifinal.
Phillips scored 13 of her 20 points and hit three of her 3-pointers in the first half, helping Oswego East (14-16) erase an early 9-2 deficit to trail just 27-26 at halftime.
Maddie Stockley took it from there. Stockley scored eight of her 11 points in the third quarter that saw Oswego East outscore Naperville Central 18-8, her 3-pointer three minutes in giving the Wolves the lead for good at 34-31.
The Wolves’ confidence seemed to grow as the game progressed, and it started with their confident sophomore guard.
“My team, I could see that they needed me,” said Phillips, who shot 7-for-12 and also grabbed six rebounds. “Our star players that usually score a lot were a a little cold. I wanted to get their confidence up as well. Sometimes on a team when one person starts hitting, everybody gets going.”
Phillips’ confidence in her dribble has grown by leaps and bounds even since the season’s start.
“Definitely,” she said. “I feel like I’ve definitely got better at dribbling. Even at the beginning of the season I wasn’t confident in my dribble. I was playing very slow motion ball. I’m getting there.”
Oswego East, which advanced to face third-seeded Downers Grove North in Friday’s regional final, beat Naperville Central for the second time this season.
The Wolves are a better team than their record would indicate, but Phillips was far from overconfident.
“I was actually very nervous because this is regionals. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, because it’s one and done,’” Phillips said with a wide smile, revealing her green-tinted braces. “We had to step up and prove ourselves because this is a good team.”
Naperville Central, which was missing Northwestern soccer recruit Megan Norkett in the teams’ first meeting in January, has struggled at times offensively this season.
But hardly looked it early.
Six Redhawks scored in the first quarter, including freshman Callie Tumilty. The oldest child of former Naperville Central football star Jim Tumilty ended up scoring a team-high 12 points off the bench, eight in the first half.
But Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum lamented his team’s missed free throws in the first quarter, and late threes by Phillips and Oswego East’s Katie Jorgensen that allowed the Wolves to get within 17-15 after a quarter.
“The first quarter kind of went the way we wanted it to go. Some of it is [Phillips] just played well,” Nussbaum said. “How many layups did we miss in the first half, we missed seven free throws, we didn’t close out a couple times on threes. We were free throws, layups and closeouts away from being up by 12 instead we’re ahead by one at half.”
The Redhawks were held to 24 points over the final three quarters, while Phillips and the Wolves got going.
Phillips’ last 3-pointer, in the final minute of the third quarter, ended a 10-2 run that gave Oswego East a 44-35 lead to the fourth quarter.
“I was hoping that it went in because sometimes I be a little worried,” she said with a laugh, “but it did.”
Oswego East coach Abe Carretto, whose team hit eight 3-pointers, wasn’t surprised.
“Oh she can score,” Carretto said. “She missed that three in transition and the next thing you know she pops a three at the top of the key I think to prove that she should have hit the other one. She does it all the time in practice. I just liked that she showed no fear. Throughout the season she’s hit those shots. It’s nice to see her step up in a game like this as a sophomore.”
Cydnei Mitchell added 10 points and Katie Jorgensen eight for Oswego East, and Riley Doggett had 12 rebounds. Trinity Strang grabbed 14 rebounds for Naperville Central. Redhawks’ leading scorer Haley Hayes was held to four points.
“I just feel bad for our seniors,” Nussbaum said. “We were capable of playing better than we played and we didn’t play better.”