Given the roller-coaster ride her team had been on Saturday afternoon, Bishop McNamara point guard Khadaizha Sanders should have a few butterflies in her stomach when she went to the free-throw line with three seconds left.
Ironically, she didn’t.
Sanders calmly sank two free throws for what turned out to be the decisive points as the Fighting Irish eked out a 56-55 East Suburban Catholic Conference thriller over host Benet in Lisle.
“Actually, I wasn’t nervous,” said Sanders, who had split a pair of foul shots two minutes earlier. “Usually I would be but I was like, ‘man, I’m about to just make these, for real.’ ’’
Sanders’ free throws gave Bishop McNamara a 56-52 lead before Benet sophomore point guard Kathleen Doyle swished a three-pointer at the buzzer to account for the final margin.
That ended a seesaw affair that saw both squads come back from double-digit deficits.
The Fighting Irish (17-3, 6-1) were the favorites but have had little success against the Redwings.
“They’re a really good team and we always look up to Benet because they’ve been a class program all this time under Peter Paul,” Bishop McNamara coach Ramon Daguinsin said. “That’s the guy that we always fear as far as coaching because he’s a real good coach.”
Benet (14-8, 2-4) used hot shooting from Eden Olson and Emily Eshoo to grab a 15-4 lead, only to see the Irish rally to score the last six points of the first half to go up 31-28 at the break.
The Irish then shredded Benet’s interior defense in the third quarter and used a 13-4 run to extend their advantage to 51-38 early in the fourth period. But the visitors knew the Redwings would mount a comeback.
“We know good teams always find a way to come back,” Sanders said. “They didn’t give up and neither did we, so it kind of came down to the last couple minutes, who was going to make shots and making free throws.”
“We talked about [Benet making a surge] and we just told the kids to be mentally strong,” Daguinsin said. “We had to make stops and the kids did that.”
But not before the Redwings forced several turnovers and ripped off 12 straight points, pulling within 51-50 on a putback by Doyle with 3:15 to go.
But Benet was unable to tie the game, though the hosts had three chances to tie or take the lead after Emily Schramek’s jumper cut the gap to 54-52 with 1:22 remaining.
Schramek, who finished with 11 points, missed a three-pointer, then Doyle had a driving layup rim out. After a Bishop McNamara turnover, a potential game-winning three by Schramek missed with :06 left.
“Give our kids credit,” Paul said. “We fought our way back. I think here and there a break the other way and we would have been ahead. But give credit to Sanders. She hit the two free throws when they really counted.”
Sanders had 14 points and six assists and Kyleigh Payne 14 points and 11 rebounds for Bishop McNamara. Doyle, Eshoo and Olson all scored 14 points for Benet, with Doyle adding seven boards and five assists.
The Fighting Irish, whose only league loss was to Joliet Catholic, felt this win made a statement.
“It means a lot. This year we’ve got all the pieces to the puzzle,” Sanders said. “We’re just putting it together and we’ve beaten good teams.”