WOODSTOCK – Woodstock North coach Mike Lewis preached all season about the importance of coming together as a family.
Lewis had been waiting for the Thunder to play as a team, and that time finally arrived this week, which included a big game against crosstown rival Woodstock. The circumstances that brought everyone together were less than ideal, however.
Junior guard Kristy Darling’s grandmother, Lorna Stull, died Monday. Stull, 83, was considered to be one of the Thunder’s biggest supporters, in more sports than just basketball, and Darling said her grandmother rarely missed her games.
“It’s unreal,” Darling said of the support from her teammates. “My grandma touched so many people. I can’t even fathom myself how many people think of her as their own grandma. It means so much to me that they support me and are there for me no matter what.”
The Thunder have played like a totally different team since then, winning consecutive games in back-to-back nights, and Wednesday’s 54-51 Fox Valley Conference Fox Division win against Woodstock was the exclamation point.
Woodstock North made six 3-pointers in the third quarter to turn an 11-point deficit into a 44-40 lead by the end of the quarter. Junior guard Ashley Jones knocked down four 3-pointers and Darling made two 3s in the third to boost the offense.
Jones and Darling finished with 14 and nine points, respectively. Sophomore center Haley Ahr led Woodstock North (7-13, 2-5 FVC Fox) with 17 points.
“I challenged them to play with their heart, and I think their heart made them stop thinking, which sometimes isn’t good, but [Jones and Darling] kept loading them up and they went in,” Lewis said. “Ashley was on fire.”
The Blue Streaks (6-12, 1-5) took an early lead, 4-3, in the first minute of the game. The offense stalled from there, committing eight turnovers in the next seven minutes before finally scoring with 19 seconds remaining in the first quarter on Grace Beattie’s basket.
Despite holding a 10-6 lead after the first quarter, the Thunder saw their advantage quickly evaporate. Woodstock scored twice in the first 25 seconds of the second quarter to tie the score at 10.
The two teams traded leads four times in the second quarter. Then the Blue Streaks began pulling away from the Thunder midway through the quarter. Freshman Gabriella Scolio scored six points in the final three minutes as Woodstock took a 24-18 lead into halftime. Scolio finished with 16 points to lead the Blue Streaks, while Beattie scored 12.
“In the locker room [at halftime], we all realized we had to come together as a team,” Jones said. “ ... I thought their defense was good. I know they wanted it just as bad as we did.”
With a lively crowd and student support for both teams, an electric atmosphere fueled a frantic first half that featured plenty of turnovers and sloppy play resulting in 23 total fouls.
Woodstock finally started settling in near the end of the second quarter, which helped them build their six-point lead. Despite some of the positives to take away from the Blue Streaks’ performance, including increased intensity, Woodstock coach Marty Hammond labeled the loss “heart-breaking.”
“The intensity level gets risen when they play each other,” Hammond said of the crosstown rivalry. “They’ve known these girls for years on end, and this is how hard they play all the time when they play North. I wish they would play like this against every team.”