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Naperville Central celebrates defeating Neuqua Valley in the Holiday Classic Basketball Tournament in Oswego on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times M
Naperville Central senior Victoria Trowbridge is normally a very steady free-throw shooter.
But in Saturday’s Oswego Holiday Classic championship game against unbeaten Neuqua Valley, her touch eluded her early on. She missed her first four from the stripe and five of her first six.
So naturally a tie game came down to her at the free throw line with two seconds left in regulation. She missed the first and then practically chased the second one down the lane after she released it, but it trickled in to give Central a thrilling, 49-48 win.
“It’s so funny because my free throws usually haven’t been that bad, but today I guess I didn’t get my rhythm,” said Trowbridge, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. “But when it counted, I guess I did. As soon as it came off my hands it felt short and I was like, ‘Aw, shoot, I can’t believe it’s not going to go in,’ but it did.”
The game featured many twists and turns to get to that final free throw. Central (12-1) jumped out to an 8-1 lead out of the blocks and stretched it 15-5 on a Jamie Cuny runner in the lane with 1:45 left in the first. But Neuqua (14-1) clawed back into the game. A 15-2 run, which was keyed by three three-pointers off the bench from Lauren Deveikis, gave Neuqua a 20-17 lead early in the second. The Wildcats then scored the final nine points of the half, holding Central to three second-quarter points, to take a 32-20 lead into the break.
“Initially, I thought we might just run away with it,” Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “And then I’m glad halftime came, because we might lose by 40 if it keeps going this way. We didn’t play that well in the first half. We were close enough to still come back.”
With Malia Smith knocked out in the second quarter with an injury and Allison Hedrick, a key player in the post, where Neuqua is thin depth-wise, fouled out late in the third quarter.
That helped Central go on a 9-0 run late in the third to cut the lead to 38-36 with 50 seconds left in the period and make it a game.
Then the Redhawks scored the first seven points of the fourth to take a 43-30 lead. Sophomore Cierra Stanciel scored six of those points.
“She adds an element of quickness,” Trowbridge said of Stanciel. “She played amazing defense, those arms. She’s amazing. We’re blessed to have her on our team this year.”
Najee Smith’s lay-up with 2:22 left tied the game at 47-47 for Neuqua, but the Wildcats never scored again. Trowbridge’s free throw at the end was the only point scored in the final 2:22 by either team.
“That’s a big, big win for us,” Nussbaum said. “A big win against a very good team. A big win where we were down. It’s very, very nice.”
It was the first loss of the season for Neuqua, though coach Mike Williams chose to put a positive spin on it.
“If we’re going to lose a game, fine, let’s lose this one,” Williams said.
“I’m not really worried about it. I’m actually excited. We needed a sting, and this is a stinger. Our kids have to respond. I’m glad that we had a learning experience today.”
Trowbridge paced Central with 17 points and Stanciel added 16. Najee Smith led Neuqua with 16.