Geneva hands Deerfield 1st loss on Palmer's last-minute shot

Geneva junior forward Leah Palmer watched the play unfold exactly how it was planned.

The Vikings were seconds away from dropping their fourth game of the season in the opening round of the 1st Annual Morton College Girls Basketball Christmas Tournament.

All game long, the Vikings were chasing Deerfield's talented but diminutive trio of guards - junior Lexi Kerstein and freshmen Aubrey Galvan and Nikki Kerstein.

The Warriors' three guards made the Vikings work for every basket, applying relentless ball pressure on defense and pushing the pace on the offensive end in an attempt to wear them out.

But the Vikings slowly erased a six-point deficit by clamping down on defense, getting a chance in the final minute to pull off a comeback victory. Palmer came through in the clutch, scoring a basket with 25 seconds left to lift the Vikings to a 65-63 victory over the Warriors.

The Vikings (9-3) advanced thanks to Palmer's late heroics and Cassidy Arni adding a clutch free throw. The Warriors (13-1) had a chance to tie the game or win, but couldn't get a shot off.

Palmer scored a team-high 22 points, banking in the winner from four feet.

"We were running five-out and we knew we had to cut hard and find an open person and run the play through," Palmer said of her winning basket. "I was able to get a nice cut. Cassidy gave me a nice assist."

Geneva's Zosia Wrobel had a big game with 17 points, including scoring three straight points to give her team a 63-62 lead with 3:42 left. Lauren Slagle scored 14 points and Arni chipped in with 10 to lead a balanced effort.

Arni, a junior forward, saved her best play for the Vikings' last set play.

"I was waiting for a cut to be open, and then I saw it and that was our play, and it worked," Arni said.

The Vikings benefitted from Deerfield's Lexi Kerstein, who scored 23 points, fouling out of the game in the final minutes. Galvan, a dynamic guard with elite vision and passing skills, was a force on both ends, finishing with 20 points and 3 3-pointers.

"That was a super fun game," Palmer said. "We knew we had to do a nice job crashing the boards and getting a lot of offensive boards. I think a lot of our points did come from offensive boards, so we did a nice job on that. Deerfield did a really nice job of pushing in transition. We had to do a good job of getting back in transition and get back on defense. That was very tiring. But we knew we had to come together at the end."

The Warriors defeated Lake Zurich on Monday afternoon, but showed no signs of fatigue playing two games in a matter of hours. The Warriors scored eight straight points to seize a 52-46 lead but Palmer scored five straight points on consecutive possessions to spark the comeback.

Arni said the Warriors pushed the Vikings to the limit. Geneva held the Warriors to two points in the final 5-plus minutes.

"Deerfield is really good," Arni said. "They're a fun team to play against, almost like an AAU game because it was fast paced. We used our size to our advantage on rebounding. We played as a team, especially on defense. Everyone did their part."

Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said the Warriors, a Class 3A team, were a good midseason test.

"That's a very unique team," Meadows said. "They don't miss. I don't think we're terrible defenders, either. Everything they threw up went in. Their freshmen are fun to watch. It was a good team win for us. It was a nice battle all the way through."

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