Perfect ending for a perfect team

By Daily Herald Sports Writer
Posted March 09, 2003
NORMAL -- Naperville Central worked overtime one more time to make history.

Candace Parker scored 6 of her Class AA state championship record 32 points in overtime to lead the Redhawks past Fenwick 63-59 Saturday night at Redbird Arena.

Naperville Central moved to 35-0 in becoming only the fifth Class AA state champion to finish undefeated and the first since Maine West in 1988.

"Our team stepped up big," said Parker, who also set a three-game finals record with 94 points to break Nora Lewis' 84 scored for Peoria Richwoods in 1984. "It's an amazing feeling."

Daily Herald Photo/Mark Welsh

Daily Herald Photo/Mark Welsh

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It was Naperville Central's third overtime win of the season, which included a 55-48 overtime triumph over Fenwick (34-3) in the title game of Dundee-Crown's Charger Classic on Dec. 30. Redhawks coach Andy Nussbaum mentioned that to his players after Fenwick's Breanne Smilie missed a driving 14-footer over Parker in the lane at the end of regulation to send the game into the extra period.

"At the overtime when they came to the bench I said, We've been here before and I know how the story ends,'" Nussbaum said. "I felt really confident going into the overtime."

Parker gave the Redhawks the lead for good in OT with a bucket inside to make it 57-55 with 2:34 left. Courtney Peters followed with a basket in the paint to make it 59-55 with 1:19 to go.

Parker sealed the win by making both ends of a one-and-one to put Naperville Central up 61-56 with 20 seconds remaining.

"It feels awesome," said Peters, who finished with 9 points. "Once we got into overtime we knew it was our game from that point on."

"Every time we play it goes like that," said Fenwick coach Dave Power, whose team won the title in 2001. "Either team could have won. Naperville Central found a way to win. We had a good opportunity to win at the end of regulation and didn't get the basketball. That's the way it goes."

It was a dream matchup for girls basketball fans. Not only did it pit the state's top-ranked teams in No. 1 Naperville Central and No. 2 Fenwick, but also the state's top two players in Fenwick's 6-foot-2 senior center Erin Lawless and Naperville Central's 6-foot-3 junior forward Parker.

The game featured a crowd-pleasing start. Lawless (22 points) and Parker scored the first 22 points as Fenwick took a 12-10 lead. Naperville Central's Tiffany Hudson became the third player to score on a drive to tie the game at 12 at 3:09 of the first quarter.

Then Fenwick's Elizabeth Marino went on a personal scoring streak of her own, scoring four consecutive baskets inside for the Friars to put them up 18-12.

Naperville Central pulled within 20-19 on a 12-foot turnaround in the lane by Parker early in the second quarter. Then Fenwick rode a pair of 3-pointers from Kristin Heidloff and another one by Smilie to lead by as much as 7 points before going into halftime holding a 33-27 advantage.

The seesaw third quarter saw the Friars open a 37-29 spread before Naperville Central used an 11-2 run capped by a Rachel Crissy 3-pointer to take a 40-39 lead. Fenwick countered with a pair of free throws by Lawless and a Nicole Rivera 3-pointer at the buzzer to send the Friars into the fourth quarter with a 44-40 edge.

The Redhawks used an 8-0 run to go up 48-44, but then Fenwick delivered a 9-2 spree to lead 53-50. Parker tied the game at 53 with a 3-pointer with 1:42 left in regulation, and that's where the score stood going into overtime.

Naperville Central burned considerable energy in the semifinals in holding off Regina Dominican 56-54 behind Parker's 32-point, 11-rebound performance.

The Redhawks never relinquished the lead after pulling ahead late in the first quarter, but a fourth-quarter charge from Regina made for some anxious moments for the winners. But after missing the first of two free throws with 9.2 seconds remaining and her team up 55-52, Parker flashed the thumbs-up sign with both hands and then sank her second attempt to seal the victory.

The Redhawks had defeated Regina Dominican 52-46 in their Tip-Off Tournament on Nov. 30, so they figured they were in for a tough game. The Panthers gave them just that.

A 3-point play by Parker gave Naperville Central a 14-9 lead at the end of the first quarter. Things continued smoothly for the Redhawks until Parker picked up her third foul with 2:06 left in the second quarter. She headed to the bench for the rest of the half with her team ahead 25-17.

But with the Panthers looking to make up some ground with Parker out of the game, Naperville Central hit them with a 1-2 punch in the final 30 seconds of the half. First Erica Carter swished a 3-pointer from the right baseline, then Rachel Crissy drilled another 3-pointer from the left wing in the closing seconds to send the Redhawks into the locker room with a 33-21 advantage.

A 9-0 run with Parker scoring 7 produced a 45-32 cushion for Naperville Central with 1:41 left in the third quarter. But the Panthers immediately answered with a 9-0 run of their own, which was stopped by an electrifying move by Parker in which she moved the ball around her back on a driving layin early in the fourth quarter.

Christina Quaye's 19 points led Regina Dominican (24-11). Parker shot 13 of 25 from the field and 6 for 8 from the free-throw line.

Carter wound up with 8 points and Peters and Crissy added 7 apiece to help send Naperville Central into the championship game in its first Downstate trip.

Parker was asked after the tough semifinals if the Redhawks would have enough left for the title game.

"We'll find a way," she said.

That they certainly did.