A close, physical contest that goes down to the wire.
That’s what you can expect when and meet on the basketball court.
And it was the case again Saturday night as host Hinsdale South eked out a 39-36 victory in Darien. The win was the third straight for the Hornets (6-1, 3-0), who remained tied for first in the West Suburban Conference Gold Division with Proviso East.
“It’s always a battle,” said Hinsdale South coach Jen Belmonte, who once played in several of the rivalry games for the Hornets. “I think it’s just the most heated rivalry ever. Both sides played great. It was a great night.”
Hinsdale South took advantage of seven Downers South turnovers to grab an 11-4 lead late in the first quarter, but Mustangs center Kirsten Zemke scored back-to-back buckets and from then on it was a two-possession game or less.
Downers South outscored the Hornets 13-6 in the third quarter, taking the lead for the first time, 28-26, on two free throws by Alison Dec. The Mustangs enjoyed their largest lead when Sarrah Ludwig’s turnaround jumper made it 32-28 with 5:46 left in the fourth quarter, but senior center Uzo Okoro scored on a layup and senior guard Brittany DeClouette sank a three-pointer with 3:42 remaining to put the Hornets ahead to stay at 33-32.
DeClouette, who finished with five points, had missed 5 of 6 shots before draining the clutch trey.
“I knew she was going to hit one,” Belmonte said. “She’s been practicing really hard working on her outside shot and she stepped up big then.”
“It was just kind of coming down to the wire,” DeClouette said. “I was trying to get them up but they weren’t falling in the beginning. But I know we needed it and I just focused and I hit it.”
Then it was Okoro’s turn to shine. Fighting through chronic back pain, Okoro made a steal and later scored on a third-chance rebound with 1:54 left. After Michelle Mitchell drove for a layup to pull Downers South within 35-34, Okoro attacked and hit two free throws with 1:11 left. She finished with 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
“She knows when she needs to be out there and be a presence and she just kind of gets through it,” Belmonte said of Okoro. “She’s got a bad back and I would normally need to sub her, but she knew she had to stay in and took one for the team and did a great job.”
Okoro seems to do her best work in the most important situations.
“You’re kind of pressed by the score and the time and you don’t know when your next possession is going to be or if you’re going to get a chance to shoot it again,” Okoro said. “So you’ve got to just really cherish the possessions that you have and do the most with them. [The sore back] is something I’ve been dealing with for years now. You’ve got to get through it.”
The Mustangs (6-2, 1-2) gave the Hornets all they could handle. Dec, who led all scorers with 14 points, scored inside off a feed from Zemke to make it 37-36 with :51 to go.
Hinsdale South senior Andrea McNally made a pair of free throws to finish the scoring with :13.5 remaining, but the Mustangs got off two shots in the final seconds. The first was an off-balance 15-footer that was rebounded by Ludwig.
The visitors called timeout with one second left and Erin Bommersbach got a decent look at a game-tying three-pointer but the ball rimmed out.
“Actually we were looking for a different shot altogether before we had to call a timeout,” Downers South coach Ellen O’Brien said. “It was all set but somehow we forgot. So they were trying to do whatever they could do and in the moment instead of going with what we called they just had a mental letdown.
“We should still be playing. That would be fun.”
Zemke finished with eight points for the Mustangs, while Mitchell, Ludwig and Katelyn Kubal each scored four. Toni Romiti had eight points, three steals and three assists for the Hornets, who were impressed with the play of the visitors.
“They’re a really good team, so I have to give them credit for getting better over the summer,” Okoro said. “They bring a lot of talent all the time and I feel like we’re pretty evenly matched teams. It’s always a hard game.”
The two teams meet again in Downers Grove on Jan. 27, and O’Brien hopes the result will be different.
“I think we’re still learning as a team and trying to come together,” O’Brien said. “We didn’t play a very good first half. I thought our best quarter was the third quarter and then we had some letdowns in the fourth and some mental mistakes. Hopefully we can work on that to prepare for the future.”