It was Naperville North's prom Saturday night, and the girls water polo team got the festivities started in a big way with a 9-8 victory over Naperville Central to clinch the Metea Valley sectional championship and a trip to state.
But it was how the top-seeded Huskies (29-1) won the game that will be etched in the minds of those who participated for a long time.
With eight seconds left in the game, the Huskies were called for a foul inside of the 5-meter line. Naperville Central's Jessica Fox made good on the shot to tie the game at 8. Overtime loomed.
Naperville North called a timeout to set up a play. The ball got to goalie Kate MacDuff, who unleashed a half-pool shot that hit the back of the net just before the buzzer sounded.
"This is just pure bliss. I've been playing since sophomore year and we didn't even make it to the (sectional) final then," MacDuff, whose score was her fifth of the season, said.
The senior made her case during the timeout to get the ball and wanted to make things right after Naperville Central (27-6) scored to tie the game. She was visibly upset at allowing the goal.
"I was ready for the shot. As it came, my hand was up, but it just slapped through my hand," MacDuff said.
She finished the game with 9 saves.
Her distress turned to joy as Naperville North, ranked third in the state, prepares to take on top-ranked Fenwick in a state quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Friday at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire. The Huskies last reached state in 2004.
"This is a long time in coming. This team has played as played as unit," said coach Andy McWhirter, who leaped into the water with his team for the postgame celebration in shirt and tie. "We drew up a play. A, B, C had to happen and it did."
Jillian Eiken led Naperville North with 6 goals with Katie Horn and Dani DiMatteo also scoring.
"Caitlyn (Holzer) and Helen (Wei) fed her all day," McWhirter said of Eiken. He added as the game went on, both teams were in for a challenge.
"You're hurting a little on energy. You're not substituting. You're in the water trying to win and going 100 percent," he said.
Horn scored for Naperville North 1:02 into the game followed by Eiken's first goal 40 seconds later. Naperville Central tied it up at 2-2 on scores from Fox, her first of 3 goals, and Michelle Spaits, her first of two. And then with just more than 30 seconds left in the quarter, Beth Ryan was left alone by the Naperville North defense and made good on her shot to give the Redhawks a 3-2 lead. Eiken closed out the quarter by converting a back-hand shot with just 10 seconds left to make it 3-3.
Naperville Central did a nice job of working the ball around before Kaela Codo found a good shot that tied the game at 4 with 2:01 left in the second quarter. Naperville North led at halftime 6-4. Eiken's sixth and final goal of the game gave the Huskies an 8-5 lead with 4:37 remaining in the game. The Redhawks responded with goals from Ryan, her second, and Fox to put the team to within 8-7 with 1:38 remaining.
"It was a great game. It's not fun to come out on the short end, but you can't be disappointed on any of the performances," said Naperville Central coach Jeff Plackett. "For us it was a case of our seniors stepping up in the final moments."