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Fired-up Stevenson tops Vernon Hills
By Dino Macro | Daily Herald Correspondent

Stevenson’s Alex Elzinga pulls down a rebound Tuesday night at Vernon Hills.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Vernon Hills’ Sydney Smith launches a shot from halfcourt at the end of the first quarter against Stevenson on Tuesday.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Vernon Hills’ Meri Bennett-Swanson celebrates during Tuesday’s game against Stevenson.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Stevenson’s Taylor Buford, left, and Vernon Hills’ Haley Lieberman scramble on the floor for a loose ball Tuesday night at Vernon Hills.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Vernon Hills’ Sydney Smith, right, drives on Stevenson’s Alex Elzinga on Tuesday night at Vernon Hills.


Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/8/2013 10:54 PM

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Alex Elzinga had no difficulty getting fired up for Tuesday’s showdown in Vernon Hills.

Elzinga and all of her Stevenson teammates knew Vernon Hills carried an 18-0 record to the court. Moreover, the Patriots senior has forged some strong relationships with several Cougar players.

The visitors carried that emotion throughout the contest to beat Vernon Hills 50-43.

“I’ve been playing with some of those girls since sixth grade,” said Elzinga, who has been AAU teammates with VH’s Meri Bennett-Swanson and Lauren Webb for several years. “We’ve never played each other in a high school game, so it was very exciting for me.”

Elzinga, who finished the contest with 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots, plans on having a chat with her Cougar friends inthe near future.

“I had circled this game on my calendar, especially with them being undefeated,” she said. “I’ll give it a week, and then I’ll say (to her VH friends), ‘So, what about that game?’”

During the battle, Elzinga let her play do the talking. She was assigned to guard the DePaul-bound Bennett-Swanson, and wound up holding her to 12 points.

“We knew they were undefeated and they’re a great team,” Elzinga said. “We just wanted it so badly.”

One observer enjoyed Elzinga’s theatrics.

“I loved her energy,” said Patriots coach Tom Dineen, whose club improved to 11-7. “Her excitement is contagious.”

Fellow senior Kari Moffat delivered a burst of energy as well, mainly on the offensive end. She finished with 17 points, hitting an array ofdriving buckets and also nailing two shots from beyond the 3-point arc.

“There were some real good opportunities,” Moffat said. “I got some open looks. And when I didn’t have the shot, I had some teammates I could kick it to.”

Moffat, who finished with 4 assists, emphasized the Patriots were confident from the opening whistle.

“Being seniors, we wanted to go out strong,” Moffat said. “You have to go into every game expecting to win.”

On the flip side, the Cougars plan on using this loss to take them to greater heights.

“I think it’s a great loss,” Bennett-Swanson said. “It’s our first real test. What does an undefeated team do after its first loss? Do we hang our heads or come back hard on Saturday?”

Expect the Cougars to do the latter.

“We plan on coming back hard and showing what Vernon Hills is made of,” Bennett-Swanson said.

The Cougars displayed some fight late in this contest. After a scoring drought of nearly six minutes put Vernon Hills in a 40-30 hole, the hosts deployed a full-court press and eventually pulled to within 43-39 with two minutes to play. But the Patriots hit 5 of 8 free throws in the final 25 seconds to seal the outcome.

“Everyone might think this is an upset,” Dineen said. “But don’t tell that to our 11 girls, two assistant coaches and myself.”

The defeat spoiled a strong effort from Cougar forward Lauren Webb (14 points, 10 rebounds). Bennett-Swanson was also active underneath,finishing the contest with 8 rebounds.

“They (Patriots) finished plays, and we didn’t,” said VH coach Paul Brettner.