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Golden goal: Willowbrook girls overcome injuries for first West Suburban Gold title since 1996

DOWNERS GROVE – Willowbrook’s girls basketball team was without four players, but the Warriors were still able to cross off a major goal on its season checklist.

The Warriors escaped Downers Grove South with a 49-48 victory Tuesday to improve to 11-0 in the West Suburban Gold and lock up the outright conference title for the first time since 1996.

“That was our goal this year, so we completed our goal,” junior Micala Giammarino said.

Willowbrook (21-3) was without starters Melissa Rader and Alyssa Ressinger and key bench players Danielle Velasquez and Jada Stills against DGS. Ressinger and Stills will be back, but Rader and Velasquez are out for the season with ACL injuries.

Giammarino was one of the new players inserted into the starting lineup and led the team with 12 points. The win showed off the team’s depth, but the absences wreaked havoc on coach Terry Harrell’s typical lineups and rotations.

Downers Grove South took advantage and led 22-15 at halftime and 30-22 midway through the third quarter before Willowbrook turned it around. The Warriors scored the next 12 points and led the rest of the game.

Willowbrook was up by as many as eight points before DGS made a run in the final minute to get within three. The Mustangs had two potential game-tying 3-point attempts miss before a rebound and layup by Kasandra Rugienius just before the buzzer made the final score 49-48.

“We had a team that was basically in the right spot every time for 17 to 18 games,” Harrell said. “You get some injuries and things just go awry, but we’ll be OK.

“A lot of it is the groups we have on the court aren’t used to playing together. We got people in the wrong spot and the rotations aren’t working quite well, but they fought through it.”

Players like Giammarino needed to step up for the Warriors, and did. Josie Zabran, who has been an invaluable addition to the team since being called up from the sophomore team during the holiday tournament, also scored 10 points. Both players will be asked to do more without Velasquez, who was typically the first guard off the bench, and Rader, who was a starter.

Giammarino shrugged off the transition.

“Our team works really well together, so everyone is interchangeable,” she said. “The girls make sure you know what you’re doing and make you feel like you’ve played as a starter all year so it’s really easy to adapt.”

The Warriors, who secured a share of the Gold title by defeating Hinsdale South 60-51 on Jan. 31, will go for an undefeated conference season when they play at Morton on Monday.

“This group of seniors is the winningest group of seniors in Willowbrook in 18 years,” Harrell said. “At this point in their two years on varsity, they’ve won 43 games.”

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