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Loyola (41) Anna Schueler is guarded by McAuley (14) Kristen Kleist in game action on Thursday. Mother McAuley plays Loyola Academy in a girls varsity basketball game at Loyola Academy at 1100 Laramie, Wilmette, IL on Thursday 1-17-13.|Judy Fidkowski~Pion

Maggie Nick was the best player on the court for most of the night, but at evening’s end, it was Alyssa Siwek and the Mighty Macs that came out with a victory, downing Loyola in a wild back-and-forth girls basketball contest 60-57.

“We’re never out of a game, we know that,” Mother McAuley coach Ashley Luke Clanton said. “We find a way. It’s never pretty, but we find a way.”

Mother McAuley trailed for nearly the entire second half, but with 32 ticks remaining on the clock, the Mighty Macs held onto a one-point lead. They managed to shave 10 seconds off of the clock with some slick passes back and forth in their own backcourt. Following a timeout, however, Siwek, who scored 26 points, appeared to make her first mistake of the second half. As the senior guard dribbled away from Loyola’s defenders toward the right sideline, she began to fall into a trap, with one defender pushing her further and further toward the sideline and Nick creeping up from behind. Perhaps sensing Nick’s presence, Siwek heaved an ill-advised pass up the sideline, and was fortunate when it tipped off of a Ramblers defender out of bounds. Following two made free throws, the Mighty Macs led by three.

Facing a full-court press, Loyola gave the ball to senior guard Anna Schueler, who wove through the Mother McAuley defense toward the three-point line, from which she put up a shot. Her shot clanked off the rim, but she was fouled, giving her a chance to tie the game from the free-throw line with 4.9 seconds remaining. Schueler, who finished with 15 points, swished her first free throw. Her second free throw bounced off of the front rim and the back rim and somehow made it in. But needing just one free throw to send the game into overtime, Schueler came up short, ultimately allowing the Mighty Macs to escape with a victory.

After the game, Schueler, like many of her teammates, left a nearby classroom with tears in her eyes.

“It’s terrible,” Schueler said, “but it’s only going to drive us more. That was a team that I think we should have beat, I know (we) should have beat. We played hard, and they just outworked us at the end. I know that it doesn’t come down to the last free throw I missed but it’s just going to make us better at the state tournament.”

Loyola coach Jeremy Schoenecker noticed the hurt in his players’ eyes.

“They wanted to win the GCAC outright,” Schoenecker said. “That would have put us at 7-0 and conference champs and now we share it with Trinity and McAuley since we all beat each other. So that was the emotion you saw here afterwards. Like we said, that’s great that you have that kind of emotion and you care that much, but we still have more games to be played. That’s usually a state tournament type of emotion right there.”

Originally, it appeared Mother McAuley (16-5, 6-1 GCAC) would roll over Loyola (16-6, 6-1), as the Ramblers were cold from the field early, allowing the Mighty Macs to take a 17-9 lead early in the second quarter. The Ramblers came back to take a lead into the locker room, however, following a nine-point explosion from Nick in the second quarter. After using her strong left hand to coast through traffic for a layup, Nick hit a three-pointer, then pounced on a teammate’s missed jumper to earn another layup to give Loyola its first lead of the game.

The Ramblers appeared well in control heading into the fourth quarter, extending their lead to 48-39 when Nick charged toward the paint before flicking the ball over her left shoulder to Schueler, whose three-pointer put Loyola on the precipice of a double-digit lead.

Mother McAuley refused to give up, however, as Siwek hit a hanging bank shot and a free throw for a three-point play. Shortly thereafter, she spun away from her defender and tossed a bank shot off of the glass to put the Mighty Macs within two.

Nick gave the Ramblers some breathing room with a three-pointer, while Mother McAuley senior forward Lauren Carlson saw two shots from close in roll in and out of the basket. When Nick hit two free throws with 2:41 remaining, it not only gave her 22 points on the night, but it gave Loyola a seemingly safe 55-50 lead.

Siwek, however, could not be stopped. She continued her remarkable fourth quarter with two swished shots from the charity stripe before sliding in under the bucket to grab a Kristen Kleist miss and lay it back in to put Mother McAuley within 55-54. Two consecutive Loyola turnovers gave the Mighty Macs a shot and Siwek took advantage, taking a Nick turnover all the way down the court, where she found Carlson with a beautiful bounce pass to her right. Carlson finished the play with a layup to give Mother McAuley its first lead of the second half.

“[Siwek] doesn’t do anything that’s flashy,” Clanton said. “The Marist game, she had 37, and I didn’t even know it until you go back and look at the score book. She is usually pretty quiet and just consistent. She gets herself to the basket. She finds a way to get around people and split people. That’s basically how she gets the bulk of her points.”

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