Inside-outside duo leads Vernon Hills past St. Viator for 3A regional title
Vernon Hills seniors Grace Koepke and Ava Barszcz each had 11 points in the first half Thursday against St. Viator.
They were coming, however, in extremely different ways.
The 6-foot-4 Koepke was dominating inside, with all of her points coming in the paint.
Senior classmate Barszcz, meanwhile, was bombing away from 3-point land, hitting 3 consecutive 3s in the second quarter.
And no matter how the scores were tallied, it all added up to a Vernon Hills Class 3A girls basketball regional championship victory on its home court,
The Cougars broke the game open with a 13-point run in the second stanza en route to a 57-48 win.
"This means a lot," said Koepke, who finished with 21 points and 21 rebounds. "My freshman year we lost to Viator in the regional finals, so coming back (to win today) just shows how hard the girls fought."
Viator didn't go down without a battle. The Lions rallied in the fourth quarter to get within 6 points late, but couldn't get any closer.
"We played aggressive, we struggled with rebounding, but we fought tonight," said Viator sophomore Allia Von Schlegell.
"We had ups and downs this year," added Von Schlegell. "We had a really young team, but I thought we played very well for being so young."
Guard Molly Craig was the only senior on the Lions roster this year.
"A lot of emotions tonight," said Craig. "It is a young team so I haven't been with a lot of the players for that long, but we've bonded in the last two years. We've gotten super close and it's going to be difficult leaving them."
The Cougars led by just one midway through the second quarter when Barszcz hit 3 straight 3s in the span of a couple minutes, and just like that they led 30-16.
Barszcz opened the third with a turnaround jumper on an assist by Shayanne St. Louis, and the Cougars opened up a 44-29 advantage when Alexa Cieslinski got a rebound, dribbled out and nailed a long 3.
"That really helped us," said Keopke of the great long-range shooting by Barszcz. "She did a great job and gave us the momentum. We've been working on our 3s quite a lot."
Viator junior Mia Bergstrom kept her team in the game with some sharpshooting of her own.
Bergstrom had 5 3-pointers as she scored a game-high 25 points, and the Lions wound up hitting 9 shots from behind the arc in the game.
Bergstrom's fifth 3 of the game with 30 seconds left got Viator to within 54-48, but Koepke and Elyse Davis sank late free throws to close the game out.
Von Schlegell scored 10 points for the Lions, while Barszcz totaled 18 for VH.
Cieslinski had 7 points and 7 boards for the Cougars who outrebounded Viator 42-19.
"We've been working really hard for this," said Cougars freshman forward Anahya Castro. "I'm proud of our team."
And the goal moving on for the Cougars?
"Just keep winning," said Castro, "and keep trying our best."