Improvement's the key in Hersey's 1-3 finish

Hersey put it in a bid this week for the best girls basketball team in the state with a record below .500.

Despite going 1-3 at the Montini tournament, the Huskies left brimming with confidence after a 42-39 loss to a 12-3 Marist team in Saturday's seventh-place game of the 16-team event in Lombard.

Hersey's three losses against quality teams - Proviso East, Marian Catholic and Marist - were by less than 10 points combined.

The Huskies (8-9) also made a case for most improved team in the state.

Less than a month ago, the Huskies lost 59-30 to Marist at the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase at Fremd High School.

"We played them on Dec. 2," said Huskies senior Erin McGrath, who scored a career-high 21 points in a 61-57 loss to Proviso East in the quarterfinals. "To turn it around in less than a month is pretty impressive.

"We work really hard and push each other. It just took a while to get going and play well with each other. But after some time, we connected so that's good."

Senior Maesyn Benjamin connected for 5 baskets, including two from 3-point range, to lead the Huskies with 14 points. Erin McGrath chipped in 10 points while her sister Katie had five.

A 3-pointer by senior Claire Rogowski and 2 free throws from Katie McGrath got the Huskies to within 23-21 of Marist at half.

"We are really beginning to click and it is showing in our game and our passion for the game," said Rogowski, who led Hersey with 15 points one day earlier against Marian Catholic in a 39-37. "I think they key is that we've learned to play better as a team. We get along real well and have good chemistry. We are a lot more competitive the way we are playing now and we want it more than a month ago."

The Huskies showed that right to the finish against the Redhawks, whose biggest lead of the second half was 33-26 with 4:10 left in the third quarter

Hersey did not allow another point the remainder of the period. The Huskies closed with a 5-0 run thanks to Erin McGrath's 10-footer from near the baseline and 3 free throws by Benjamin.

Hersey tied the game at 33-33 early in the final quarter on 2 free throws by Erin McGrath. The Huskies edged ahead 34-33 when sophomore Emily Collins hit a free throw with 5:18 left.

Junior Stefanie Scheid's 3-pointer regained the lead for Marist before Collins' left-handed layup tied it at 36-36 with 4:10 left.

Scheid hit another 3-pointer to give Marist the lead for good at 39-36.

A layup by Abby Corcoran (1:47 left) and then a free throw (8.9 seconds) put the Redhawks in front 42-36 before Benjamin hit a 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.

"They (Hersey) are a completely different team now," said Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly. "And we knew that - we saw them play on Friday.

"We matched up well with them. We are very similar teams so we were lucky to come out with this win."

Hersey coach Mary Fendley was proud of her Huskies

"You might think we would be discouraged with a 1-3 record but what just happened is that we were the only team here to play four top-seeded teams," she said. "We beat the No. 3 seed (Benet on Wednesday). We almost beat the No. 6 team (Proviso East), almost beat the No 7. team (Marian Catholic) and today we almost beat a team (Marist) that beat us by almost 30 points earlier in season."

It was the third straight season Hersey played in the winner's bracket at Montini.

"We have grown so much in being able to handle the basketball and adjusting on defense," Fendley said. "The fact that we got killed by this team earlier in the season and then had the lead on them with less than five minutes, says a lot.

"And it's not even just the win against Benet, which was great, but how we played these last three games. I think I'd rather go 1-3 in the winner's bracket of the toughest tournament in the state than pick up some wins against lesser competition. That's why we signed up for this. To get to the winner's bracket of this tourney three straight seasons is something to be proud of."

Junior Abby Callahan led Marist with 14 points while Scheid finished with 9.

"Katie and Erin did a good on No. 1 (freshman Sydney Affolter) and No. 2 (Callahan). And our ballhandling (led by freshman point guard Mary Kate Fahey) has been continually improving. "

The Huskies, just 1 game out of first place in the Mid-Suburban East, will continue action on Jan. 9 (at Schaumburg) and Jan. 12 (at Rolling Meadows).

"We will get ready now for 2018," Fendley added. "Hopefully, our improvements will show."

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