OSWEGO – Meghan Stapleton is new to high school basketball.
But the Downers Grove South freshman had an interesting take when asked if she expected the Mustangs would advance to the Oswego East Holiday Classic final.
“I kind of felt good about this team from the beginning,” Stapleton said. “I was really happy being in the championship game and I think we played really well.
“I was just happy to be here. I think we deserved to be here.”
Thanks in part to Stapleton, the Mustangs can argue that they deserved to win the championship. Instead, Lincoln-Way West won the title when Tara Hastings swished a contested 3-pointer out of the left corner as time expired, giving the Warriors a 52-50 victory on Dec. 29.
It was a thrilling ending to a game that saw 10 lead changes, five ties and some inspired play by both teams.
Downers South star Holly Lueken, who scored her 1,000th career point the day before in a semifinal win over Oswego East, tallied 16 of her team-high 19 points in the second half. That included the final four points for the Mustangs (9-7), who led 50-47 following Lueken’s three-point play with 20.9 seconds left.
Taylor Gugliazzo, who led all players with 21 points, pulled the Warriors (16-3) within 50-49 with a layup and Lueken was fouled with 8.4 seconds remaining.
Lueken missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and the rebound went out of bounds to Lincoln-Way West. With both teams out of timeouts, the Warriors were able to get the ball up the court just in time for Hastings to sink the winner.
“Holly is our best free-throw shooter, so I figured just send people back so we don’t foul after the shot,” Downers South coach Lyndsie Long said. “It might have been my bad there, but we contested that last shot.
“It was just bad luck. What can you do?”
The Mustangs did all they could. Stapleton, a 5-foot-9 guard/forward who tallied a career-high 18 points in her team’s tournament opener, made four consecutive shots in the first half.
Stapleton, who finished with 13 points, gave the Mustangs their largest lead, 29-22, when she made a 3-pointer early in the third quarter. She is becoming a reliable third scoring option behind Lueken and senior center Jennifer Masello, who had 15 points, 14 rebounds and three steals before fouling out on a disputed call with 1:41 left and the game tied at 46.
“She’s very consistent,” Lueken said. “It’s good to have someone on the team that is always working hard and you know you can always count on her.”
Stapleton has shown an ability to score inside against taller players as well as shoot from the perimeter.
“I like where I am,” Stapleton said. “I’m kind of a forward/guard so I like shooting the 3 and being able to get inside, too.
“I feel good. It’s fun working with everybody and I’ll just keep getting better.”
That’s music to the ears of Long, who was thrilled by her team’s first three-game winning streak.
“It’s awesome winning three in a row,” Long said. “We got lots of minutes for lots of these girls.
“I’m proud of them. We played with a lot of heart and I think if we had hit a few more shots that we normally do make, it would have been a different outcome.
But credit to Lincoln-Way West. They’re a good-shooting team.”