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Wheeling 52, Schaumburg 51
By John Leusch | Daily Herald Staff

Wheeling coach Shelly Wiegel embraces Lana Rukavina (34) after the Wildcats held off Schaumburg 52-51 in OT on Thursday night at Schaumburg.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Schaumburg's Drewann Pancratz tries prevent overtime with a last-second shot in regulation, but Wheeling's Lana Rukavina is there to prevent it.

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Schaumburg's Drewann Pancratz reacts after a 1-point overtime loss to Wheeling in the MSL championship game

 

Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 2/8/2008 12:16 AM

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It took 35 years for Wheeling to land a berth in the Mid-Suburban League girls basketball title game.

Then it took 36 minutes for the Wildcats to land in the history books with their first girls basketball conference title Thursday night.

The Mid-Suburban East co-champions worked overtime to edge host Schaumburg, the West co-champs, 52-51 before a pair of loud student sections rooting their teams on to the very end.

In the end, it was senior Lana Rukavina's 3-point play and 2 free throws from junior Ashley Wilson that proved to be enough in the extra session for Wheeling (25-3), ranked No. 2 in Class 4A .

The Saxons (24-5) had one final shot to win when senior Drewann Pancratz (12 points, 8 rebounds, 2 steals) just missed a 10-footer in the lane in the final seconds.

It was Pancratz who hit a 15-footer from the baseline to give Schaumburg a 54-52 triumph over Wheeling a month ago on the same floor.

Rukavina came off the bench to score a game-high 19 points with 6 rebounds. The 6-foot-4 Illinois recruit helped turn around the Wildcats' program four years ago as a freshman.

"This is a giant milestone not only for our team but for the school," Rukavina said. "I'm so proud of our team. We're ecstatic, beyond ecstatic."

The Saxons were not exactly demoralized, considering they played the final 26 minutes without All-Area forward Gabrielle Blackwell, their second-leading scorer (13 ppg) and top rebounder (9 rpg).

Blackwell is expected to be OK for regional play next week after leaving with a muscle strain in her leg with 5:59 left in the second quarter.

"Without Gabby (8 points, 6 rebounds in 10 minutes), we knew everyone else had to step up," Pancratz said. "Sarah Kellermeyer did a great job (5 points and 5 rebounds off the bench for Blackwell) and everyone else played their hearts out. It was a great championship game, Unfortunately, it didn't go our way."

One of the best title games in 35 years saw Wheeling build a 36-27 lead late in third quarter. The Saxons went on a 14-2 run, taking a 40-38 lead on a 3-pointer by Kylie Castans (15 points, 9 rebounds).

Two free throws by Pancratz and one by Castans put the hosts ahead 47-45, but Rukavina hit a nifty 12-footer that tied the game for the final time with 1:21 left in regulation.

"In one of our timeouts toward the end, we just told the kids they had to believe," said Wheeling coach Shelly Wiegel. "It was nice to see Lana putting it all together in the spotlight. She was amazing."

Janelle Cannon (12 points, 4 rebounds), Wilson (11 points, 7 rebounds), Bianca Szafarowicz (7) and Natasha Robinson (3) all put points on the board for Wheeling, which also received 2 steals and 2 assists from Stephanie Kuzmanic.

Gryte Satas added 8 rebounds and 5 points for Schaumburg while teammate Taylor Kosla chipped in 6 points and 3 assists.

"With a player who had scored 1,300 points (Blackwell) sitting on the bench most of the game, to go to overtime with the No. 2 team in Class 4A was what I thought was an absolutely outstanding effort," said Saxons coach Bill Murmann. "This was a great athletic moment for these kids and maybe they'll appreciate it later.

"It's like EIi Manning going down in the second quarter and the Giants still almost pulling out the Super Bowl."

Rukavina was asked if this will provide Wheeling confidence in the state tourney.

"Do I need to be asked that?" she said. "Of course. This is a huge step to getting ready for state."

It sure was a huge night Wheeling girls basketball.