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posted: 1/27/2010 12:01 AM

Strong finish powers Wheeling

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Prospect produced a strong beginning Tuesday night.

Unfortunately for the Knights, they were facing a Wheeling girls basketball team that all of a sudden is becoming known for its strong endings.

Four nights after making up a 9-point deficit in the final two minutes to defeat Hersey, Wheeling closed with a 9-0 run this time in the final two minutes to overcome a valiant Prospect effort in the Jean Walker Field House.

The two-time defending Mid-Suburban League champs rallied from a 14-5 first-quarter deficit and posted a 48-37 victory as seniors Janelle Cannon (17 points, 9 rebounds, 4 steals, 4 assists), Bianca Szafarowicz (15 points, 8 rebounds) and Stephanie Kuzmanic (8 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, 3 assists) led the way.

The Wildcats (21-3, 5-2) are tied for first in the MSL East with Elk Grove (19-3, 5-2) while Hersey (16-6, 4-2) is a half-game back.

Wheeling's seniors will be honored Friday night when the Wildcats host Elk Grove.

"We have to win every game now," Szafarowicz said. "The pressure is definitely on. But we showed we could handle it from last year."

Prospect (14-8, 3-4) put the pressure on the Wildcats early as Marissa Pettenuzzo, Sarah Hunt and Lexi Glennon each scored 4 points and Rachel Hunt (11 points, 14 rebounds) added a bucket during the 14-5 game-opening run.

"At the start, we were relying on our outside shots," Cannon said. "We just had to start attacking more and finally the layups started falling."

Four free throws by Cannon and two buckets apiece from reserve Leah Malsom and Szafarowicz helped the Wildcats climb to within 26-21 at half.

The visitors got their first lead when Kuzmanic hit 3-pointer with eight seconds left in the third quarter for a 34-32 lead. It was her second 3-pointer of the quarter.

"Those 3-pointers by Stephanie Kuzmanic hurt us," said Prospect coach Martha Kelly, whose primary game plan was to keep the Wildcats from attacking the basket. "And Wheeling showed a lot of poise. They didn't get rattled."

A steal by Kelsey Maczko led to a layup by Cannon which gave Wheeling a 37-33 lead. Moments later, Cannon drove the lane for a layup and 39-33 cushion.

"Leah Malsom gave us a nice spark off the bench," said Wheeling coach Shelly Wiegel said. "It took a while for us to be patient.

"I know this may sound strange but I was never worried. I just don't know why we have to wait until the second half."

The Knights, celebrating their own senior night, got to within 39-37 on back-to-back buckets from Rachel Hunt before Wheeling's 9-0 run.

"Rachel did a great job on the boards," Kelly added. "Lexi (Glennon) and Sarah (Winans) did a great job attacking the basket and creating shots.

"We were right there. Our defense kept us in the game. I'm proud of our girls. They did a fantastic job, especially in the first half."

With under a minute to go, Cannon tossed another one of no-look passes to give Szafarowicz an easy layup with 31 seconds left and a 44-37 lead.

Cannon said she spent time thinking about the Wildcats' comeback against Hersey when her team was trailing Tuesday.

"I was thinking about the last two minutes (12-0 run) and said why can't we play like that all the time," she said. "We can't afford to lose a conference game now. Every game is important to us."