In recent years, Naperville Central is the only DuPage Valley Conference team that has regularly given Wheaton Warrenville South trouble.
The Tigers are 42-3 in league play since the start of the 2010-11 season, and all three of those losses have been to Naperville Central.
So it came as no surprise when the host Redhawks put up another good effort on Thursday, cutting a 17-point deficit down to seven after three quarters.
But as they have done so often, the Tigers knuckled down defensively when they had to, ceding only six points in the fourth quarter en route to a 61-44 victory in Naperville.
It was the 21st consecutive DVC win for WW South (15-2, 3-0).
“There’s just kind of a point in time where this [starting] five, we’ve been on the floor together for so long that we just know when it’s time to turn it up,” WW South junior Olivia Linebarger said. “Nothing even needs to be said. It’s just kind of almost like a motivating frustration that we all kind of share together. Then we kind of go after it.”
That happened at the start of the fourth quarter. Naperville Central had clawed back by sinking 8-of-14 shots in the third quarter, including five three-pointers. Guard Emily Kraft sank four of the treys, the last of which came at the buzzer to pull the Redhawks (4-13, 1-3) within 45-38.
But Kraft was held to just one shot attempt in the final quarter as Linebarger often popped out to the three-point line to help fellow forward Melinda Franke double on Kraft and backcourt mate Shannon Ryan.
“It was more like I was helping on Mel’s girl,” Linebarger said. “Mel is an amazing defender. She’s always on the hardest girl and that’s kind of frustrating when you have to guard the hardest girl. I was just kind of popping out and helping out.”
The strategy worked as the Redhawks went 2-for-16 from the floor in the fourth. Ryan drained a three-pointer that made it 50-41 at the 4:57 mark, but the Tigers scored six quick points on a bucket by Maggie Dansdill and a putback and layup from Franke.
DePaul-bound Meghan Waldron assisted on two of those baskets. The senior point guard scored just eight points but had nine rebounds and six assists, successfully getting all of her teammates involved, especially during a 15-0 run that gave the Tigers a 21-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
“In the first half we let Waldron run the show,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “I know she only had eight points but she had 17,000 assists. In the third quarter we slowed her down a little bit.”
By then, it was too late as multiple Tigers went to work scoring and rebounding. Linebarger had 12 points, while Franke and Dansdill each scored 11, Erin Zappia had 10 and Erin Madigan seven.
Even more impressive was WW South’s dominance on the boards. The Tigers outrebounded the Redhawks 42-22, with Franke grabbing 14 and Dansdill and Zappia seven each.
“I don’t know what Melinda Franke eats at her house but, seriously, she’s like a motivation to go get [the ball],” Linebarger said. “It’s fun to rebound. On my AAU team I love to rebound, but when I step on the floor with Melinda it’s like I’ll probably be the next one in there fighting for it.”
Kraft scored 20 points, one shy of her career high, and Ryan tallied 17, but no other Redhawk had more than four points.