PARK RIDGE — The Maine East girls basketball team saw how quickly Maine West can take a competitive game and put it out of reach on Jan. 10, and the Warriors threatened to do that again in the second quarter of what amounted to the CSL North championship game.
Maine West standout Brittany Collins started Friday’s game, which Maine East won 48-44, in dominant fashion. The senior post player had nine points and six rebounds in the first quarter to put Maine West up 12-8 after eight minutes. Not only that. Maine East senior point guard Jazlene Gonzalez, a four-year starter, picked up three fouls in the first 3:52.
Gonzalez’s foul trouble seemed like it would keep her on the bench until at least the start of the second half, but Maine East coach Karol Hanusiak made a bold move to start the second quarter.
She put Gonzalez back in the game.
“We could not win this game without her,” Hanusiak said. “I was so confident she could go in and play at a high level and be smart enough not to foul. And we needed her. There was no way we were going to do this without her in there almost the whole game.”
The Blue Demons built a lead in the second quarter, led throughout the second half and held on to beat Maine West and win the program’s first CSL North title. A banner commemorating the achievement is scheduled to be raised in the school’s fieldhouse, and Gonzalez was a major reason for that.
A four-year starter, Gonzalez made 4 of 6 3-point attempts in what she said was her best shooting performance of the season. She finished with a team-best 15 points, and didn’t pick up any fouls after the first quarter.
However, things looked bleak for her during the final 4:08 of the first quarter in the biggest game of her career. Gonzalez’s head dropped as she sat on the bench immediately after picking up a technical foul — she reentered the game without checking in amid a moment of confusion for the Blue Demons, who only had four players in the game at the time. But Hanusiak quickly told her to “take a deep breath, smile [and] you’re going to go back in.”
Gonzalez collected herself during that time, thinking back on experiences including Maine East’s win over Niles North on Jan. 24 when she managed to play through foul trouble.
“I’ve had many foul [situations] like this, and I thought, ‘OK, I did this before. Let me regroup myself, come back on defense,’ ” Gonzalez said. “I just kept pushing myself, like ‘I can do this, I can do this, I’ve got it.’ And I did it.”
Gonzalez returned to the floor to start the second quarter and immediately helped flip the game’s momentum. She scored the first points of the quarter on a layup in transition, and then she made a steal and dished to sophomore guard Janelle Alba Garner on a fast break for two points.
She played the rest of the game on the side of the Blue Demons’ 2-3 zone, managing to stay on the court and providing a steadying presence for Maine East.
“When she came back … we were all energized,” Alba Garner said “That brought the whole team up because we need each other.”