Naperville North's balance too much for West Aurora

Kenzie Hare had an usual start to her final regional-championship girls basketball game Friday night in Aurora.

"That was not the position I wanted to be in," the Naperville North star senior guard said of picking up a second foul 100 seconds into the Class 4A West Aurora title game.

But the Huskies never missed a beat as Hare - frequently being substituted on defense for much of the remainder of the first half - led four players in double figures with 17 points.

Naperville North trailed only once - after the initial field goal of the game - in advancing to the East Aurora sectional with a 62-52 victory over eighth-seeded West Aurora.

The second-seeded Huskies (29-3) will face No. 3 Downers Grove North in the second semifinal on Tuesday.

The host Blackhawks concluded their season at 15-13.

"We have been in foul trouble a lot," said Naperville North junior Peyton Fenner, who finished with 10 points. "We trust our coaches a lot to handle the subbing the way they need to."

"We have a bunch of players on the bench who can come in and do what is necessary to win the game," Hare said.

But it was the Huskies' other starters who did the majority of the damage against West Aurora.

Equally meaningful to the teams' second game of the season was the appearance of four-year West Aurora shooting guard Riley Mont.

Bound for Division-III DePauw in Indiana, Mont was still recovering from an ACL injury from her junior season late last fall.

Mont averaged 27 points per game during the pandemic campaign, and the Huskies trounced West Aurora by 35 points last Thanksgiving.

But Mont heroically kept the Blackhawks in the game, scoring a game-high 23 points, including four 3-pointers, in her final high school contest.

"I don't think we capitalized on it," Mont said of Hare being saddled with two fouls 6:19 into the opening quarter. "(Hare) is a great player, and I don't think it affected her. They are the better team. All of their players can score, all of the players can crash the boards; they're all over the place."

Naperville North threatened to make the second half academic, only to have Mont spearhead a quick 6-0 burst at the end of the second quarter.

The Huskies, however, only accentuated their advantage in turnovers and rebounding to quickly expand on their 31-22 halftime lead.

"We have strong posts inside, we have guards who can hit 3s," said Naperville North forward Sarah Criossett, who finished with 13 points. "Everybody plays to their strengths."

Abby Drenel was the fourth Naperville North player to each double digits with her 10 points.

Izabel Valadez scored 7 points for West Aurora, and fellow senior guard Lexi Lamanna scored all 6 of her points on two NBA-range 3-pointers for the Blackhawks.

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