Neuqua Valley nearly pulled itself out of a most unfamiliar spot.
Trailing by 12 at Trinity after three quarters — only the second time all year they’ve been behind entering the fourth — the No. 3-ranked Wildcats mounted a furious rally before falling short 39-33 on Wednesday in River Forest.
Neuqua (21-2) used a 14-3 run to get within 34-33 with 1:28 left on an Allison Hedrick basket but never drew closer.
“I think the urgency of the situation took over with our kids,” Neuqua coach Mike Williams said. “We’re OK. How many teams would like to be 21-2 right now? We’re fine.”
The smallest kid on the court hit the game’s biggest shot. Out of a timeout Trinity 5-foot-4 freshman Annie McKenna, who minutes earlier passed up an open 3-pointer, buried a corner 3 to get the margin back to 4.
“I knew we needed a shot there,” said McKenna, who had 11 points and hit three 3s. “Somebody had to shoot it.”
Neuqua makes a living off turning teams over with its pressure defense, but for three quarters Trinity handled the heat as well as any Wildcats opponent. Trinity’s ball movement was crisp and quick, and talented junior point guard Lauren Prochaska did the rest.
Trinity (18-3) committed just 7 turnovers through three quarters and led 31-19 after a Taylor Nazon turnaround jumper as time expired.
Myia Starks started the fourth with a three-point play for Neuqua, and Hedrick’s steal, score and three-point play made it 31-25. As Trinity seemed to pull back, milking clock, Neuqua got more aggressive and took more chances.
“We just picked up our tempo,” said Neuqua junior Malia Smith. “We were like, ‘OK guys, we’re not going to go down like this.’ We started hustling more, putting more pressure on the basketball, trapping everywhere. Everybody was just flying around.”
Neuqua’s loss snapped a seven-game win streak, coming on the heels of impressive January wins over Wheaton Warrenville South, Metea Valley and Fremd. Williams knows now isn’t the worst time to taste defeat.
“I’d rather have this now than in the first week of the playoffs,” Williams said. “We needed this. I love it. Our best success sometimes comes through failing, how we respond to the occasion.”
“This game reminded us what it felt like to lose again,” Smith said. “It shows us that we can’t start out slow and play just one solid quarter. We have to play the entire game.”
It wasn’t the start Neuqua wanted on the road, as Trinity jumped out to a 14-5 lead after a quarter. It was 19-13 at halftime and 22-13 after a McKenna 3. Neuqua pulled within 23-19 but missed a pair of layups and Prochaska answered with a 3.
Hedrick had 12 points and 5 rebounds, Bryce Menendez 7 points and 9 boards and Starks 7 points for Neuqua. Prochaska paced Trinity with 14 points.
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