Libertyville rallies for wild win over neighboring Carmel

It would have been understandable had Carmel Catholic's girls basketball team - minus senior standout and co-captain Mia Gillis, out with a broken shooting hand - trailed host Libertyville 19-3 after one quarter in a nonconference game Monday night.

But scoreboards don't lie, and here's what the Wildcats' big board displayed after one quarter:

Carmel 19, Libertyville 3.

"They fought hard, came ready to play, because (the 6-foot-1 Gillis) couldn't play," Libertyville senior guard Emily Fisher said of the reigning Class 3A state champion Corsairs.

"I'm emotional right now."

Emotional because Fisher had played her final game on the home hardwood.

But the Maryland-bound hoopster was also thrilled. She and her mates - down 29-19 at the half - outscored the visitors 20-10 in the third quarter, took their first lead, 43-42, at the 3:36 mark of the fourth frame and hung on for a pulsating, playoff-ish 50-47 victory.

"Grit, resiliency and refusing to underperform after a tough start - that's what you saw from us tonight," elated Libertyville coach Greg Pedersen said after his club improved to 26-4 and capped an undefeated season at home.

"That Carmel team is good," he added. "No, it's a great team. We found our energy late and kept chipping away at Carmel's lead."

Fisher, who scored 7 of her 12 points in the final 8 minutes, took a pivotal charge at 3:53 of the fourth quarter. It preceded a stretch in which she outpointed Carmel 7-2 from 5:59 to 2:17, the last 3 coming via a clutch trey.

Carmel senior Jordan Wood (game highs of 19 points, 12 rebounds and 5 3-pointers) answered with a 3-pointer 19 seconds later, putting the Corsairs (21-7) up 47-46.

Scores of folks must have thought about calling 9-1-1.

The contest between the two schools - separated by 1.4 miles - had reached a barnburner level.

Libertyville junior guard Kate Rule (team-high 18 points, 11 after intermission) tallied the final 4 points to complete the triumph.

"We never gave up," said Fisher, who'd been inadvertently head-butted in the jaw in the first half and later received her third foul at 4:04 of the second quarter.

Rule picked up her third foul with 54 ticks left in the half.

Michigan State-bound Wood played marvelous ball in the first half, pouring in 14 points, all but 2 coming from 3-point territory. Sporting bright green sneakers and showing a spring in her step in wintertime, the 6-4 Corsair was, well, money.

Carmel junior co-captain Ashley Schlabowske (11 points) tossed in at least 2 points in each quarter, including a bucket with only 2 seconds left in the first half.

Corsairs senior guard Kyla Smith scored 8, and junior teammate Molli Ward had 5.

Libertyville's win avenged a loss to Carmel last winter in Mundelein.

Libertyville junior guard Rachel Rule struck for all 11 of her points in the middle quarters. Her five consecutive points - sandwiched around a Carmel timeout in the third quarter - cut the visitors' advantage to 37-28.

Wildcats reserve freshman guard Sophia Swanson (6 points) hit a pair of triples in the first half, including her team's only 3 points in the first 8 minutes.

Libertyville junior forward Talya Tillman (team-high 6 boards) played stellar defense near midcourt in the waning seconds of the fourth quarter.

"We played well at times and not so well at times," said Corsairs coach Ben Berg, who hopes Gillis will be able to return to action in three weeks. "I'm proud of the girls, proud of how well they played without one of our starters."

Carmel is seeded No. 1 in the Class 3A Deerfield sectional; Libertyville landed the second seed in the Class 4A Highland Park sectional.

Both squads appeared playoff-ready after their Route 176 battle Monday night.

"I'm going to remember this night for a long time," Fisher, still emotional, said.

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