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posted: 1/20/2010 12:01 AM

Libertyville claws back vs. Zion-Benton

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  • Libertyville's Nicole Kruckman shoots over Zion Benton's Kayla Parks, left, and Carnesha Johnshon during their game Tuesday night at Libertyville High School.

      Libertyville's Nicole Kruckman shoots over Zion Benton's Kayla Parks, left, and Carnesha Johnshon during their game Tuesday night at Libertyville High School.
    Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer


As a video tribute to Libertyville's senior basketball girls played on a projector screen, with a music bed complementing a montage of pictures from different stages of the players' lives, a mom admitted to having tears in her eyes. A grandma beamed and talked about the wonderful experience of the entire evening.

It was a special night at Libertyville.

And Zion-Benton came that close to spoiling it.

Libertyville squandered a 12-point lead in the second half but composed itself just in time down the stretch to pull out a 44-41 win in a North Suburban Lake game that ultimately might decide the division championship.

With Tuesday's win on senior night, Libertyville (18-4, 7-2) pulled into a first-place tie with Zion-Benton (14-6, 7-2). If the teams finish tied for first place, Libertyville would represent the NSC Lake in the conference championship by virtue of it three-point margin of victory. Zion-Benton defeated Libertyville 37-35 in the teams' first meeting.

"I think people underestimate us sometimes," senior guard Kateylnn Jennings said. "I truthfully think we can go farther than people expect us to."

Where the Wildcats are now is on a 12-game winning streak. Junior Savannah Trees helped secure the latest victory by sinking both ends of a one-and-one with 13.2 seconds left to put the hosts up three and then stealing the ball from Zee-Bees star Juanita Robinson (game-high 18 points) in the final seconds.

Trees, who came off the bench as coach Kathie Swanson started all five of her seniors, finished with 9 points.

"She's been incredible," Jennings, who dished out 5 assists, said of Trees. "She's just one of those players who always knows what she's doing. You can always trust her with the ball."

Libertyville's zone defense frustrated Zion-Benton most of the night, and the Wildcats led 29-17 with 2:22 left in the third quarter after Alex Haley (team-high 12 points) sank a running shot.

But a layup by Robinson in transition triggered the Zee-Bees' comeback.

"They picked their intensity up," Zion-Benton coach Tanya Johnson said of her players. "We got some steals and I think they kind of got some momentum and a lift from that, and got their confidence going."

Robinson's 2 free throws, after her second 3-pointer of the night, capped a 15-0 run and put Zion-Benton in front 32-29 with 5:07 left in the fourth.

Swanson credited Octavia Crump for helping the Zee-Bees get back in the game. The 6-foot sophomore scored 8 points and grabbed 8 rebounds, all on the offensive end and six in the second half.

"Crump got a lot of easy inside shots," Swanson said. "We didn't do a really good job of boxing her out. She got a lot of putbacks and fouls, and that's how you let great teams back in games."

The lead seesawed the final four minutes until Haley answered Carnesha Johnson's steal and basket under Libertyville's basket with a baseline drive to give the lead back to Libertyville with 43 seconds left.

Libertyville junior Olivia Wilcox scored 6 of her 10 points in the fourth.

"We were just getting a little bit frazzled," said Wildcats senior center Leah Kruckman, who scored 5 points. "We had to settle ourselves down and come back and get it - before giving me a heart attack."

Zion-Benton had been undefeated in the division before getting blown out by Stevenson last Saturday.

"It's just too bad we can't put four quarters together," Johnson said. "I think if we did, we'd really shock ourselves."