Claire Monroe says she is just following in the footsteps of her older sister, Kelsey.
The West Chicago 5-foot-5 senior guard made her sibling proud on Thursday night in Hoffman Estates against No. 15 seeded Conant, which hosted the Class 4A regional title game.
Monroe tossed in game-high 19 points as West Chicago posted a 48-39 victory and captured its first regional title since Kelsey helped steer the Wildcats to one in 2007.
Kelsey, who wrapped up her career at Elmhurst College last year, finished as West Chicago’s all-time leading scorer.
But with more than 1,200 points, Claire took over that title this season.
“We always tell Claire she has gotten a lot of individual records for the program, but winning a regional is a team thing and something she’ll always remember,” said Wildcats coach Kim Wallner, who fans also will remember as the all-time leading scorer for Schaumburg High School, where she graduated in 1980.
No. 5 West Chicago (16-12) advanced to the Hoffman Estates sectional and will face No. 1 Bartlett (28-1) in Monday’s 6 p.m. semifinal.
“This is a team accomplishment, so it feels best of anything because we really worked hard for this,” said Monroe, whose 3-pointer with 3:25 left in the first quarter gave West Chicago the lead for good at 5-2.
The Wildcats led by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter when Monroe drove for layup and 17-6 lead.
West Chicago also took an 11-point lead when junior Laura Panicali (9 points) scored on a putback at the third-quarter buzzer (33-22).
Conant (9-20) surged to within 3 on a rebound layup by Natalie Kutrumanes with 3:17 left in the game.
But a running 10-footer in the lane by Liz Reyes and 2 free throws from Panicali got the Wildcats back on top 39-32 with 2:04 left.
A 3-point play by senior guard Allie Bauch got Conant to within 39-35, but that’s as close as it got.
Reyes hit 2 big free throws with 1:09 left.
With 37 seconds left, Monroe caught a home run pass from Allie Tapanes (6 points, 3 assists) to score a layup for a 44-37 cushion.
“Our seniors really helped,” Wallner said.
Kutrumanes had the best scoring game for Conant despite seeing box-and-one coverage. The senior forward scored 18 points from 6 field goals and 6 free throws.
“We definitely stepped up at the end here,” Kutrumanes said. whose team upset No. 4 seed York on Tuesday. “We knew we were underdogs. We had nothing to lose.”
“We wanted to limit the touches for No. 24,” Wallner said. “She’s a good player and we noticed she dictated a lot of things they did.”
Emily Warkins helped dictate things for the Wildcats on the boards, grabbing 5 rebounds while Monroe had 4. Senior Brenna MacDonald chipped in 7 second-half points.
Freshman Katie Lomas chipped in 8 points for Conant, including a big layup when Conant was making its rally in the fourth quarter.
Senior Ashley Bartuch hit a pair of 3-pointers for the Cougars while sophomore teammate Sarah Mazurek had a pair of big buckets in the second half.
“I’m just so proud of the girls’ effort,” said Conant coach Dan Travers. “They come to practice every day to get better, and they let us coach them. The seniors were wonderful with the underclassmen, and showed great integrity all the time. “Things didn’t go our way all the time during the season, but these kids kept battling and were so resilient. It’s a credit to them.”
Conant was 15-for-46 from the floor and 2-for-15 from 3-point range.
“There’s the game,” Travers said of the Cougars’ 3-point percentage. “And we had some decent looks.
“We just didn’t get enough points from other people (other than Kutrumanes). They forced us to shoot more on the perimeter, a little more than we wanted because they were focusing on Natalie.
“It took a while but we cut the lead to 3 against their box-and-one. We kept the game within reach but too many mistakes hurt us at the end. Our kids played so hard. I’m really proud of them.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.