GLEN ELLYN – Jamiyah Thomas was on the bench recovering from leg surgery the first time Glenbard West played Downers Grove North.
The 6-foot-2 senior missed the first six weeks of the season as a stress fracture in her tibia healed, but she finally returned on Jan. 3.
Thomas is only now getting back into shape – but it couldn’t have come at a better time.
She and senior guard Katelyn Heller each scored a game-high 10 points Saturday as the host Hilltoppers knocked off Downers Grove North 41-25 at Biester Gym to clinch their second straight West Suburban Conference Silver Division championship.
It is the first time Glenbard West has won back-to-back league titles since 1981-82 and the first time the Hilltoppers have captured consecutive unshared crowns.
“We’re just so happy,” Heller said. “We knew this was going to be really big for us and we knew that we had to play harder than them and want it more than them.”
The Hilltoppers (20-6, 11-1) avenged their only Silver loss, a 50-41 decision to Downers North on Dec, 14, in dramatic fashion.
Senior Quinn Stephens scored six of her team-high seven points during an 8-0 run that pulled the visiting Trojans (20-8, 10-2) within 23-20, prompting Glenbard West coach Kristi Faulkner to call timeout with 2:43 left in the third quarter. She told her team that basketball is a game of runs and that Downers North’s would stop now and the Hilltoppers’ would begin.
That’s exactly what happened.
Glenbard West held the Trojans, who were attempting to win the Silver for just the second time in program history, scoreless for 9 minutes, 18 seconds.
The massive 18-0 run put the game away and Thomas played a huge role, scoring eight of her points, three on short jumpers and the other underneath. Heller made her last three shots of the game during that streak as the pair combined to score14 consecutive points at one point.
“I was just using my body to my advantage,” Thomas said. “We talked about how I’m going to have a smaller girl on me, so knowing they can’t stop me, they’re either going to foul me or I’m going to make it.
“It was just me being confident with myself, telling myself I got this.”
Once Heller saw that Thomas had it going, she kept looking for her, setting up back-to-back baskets that made it 37-20.
“When they made their run in the third quarter, we knew that we had to come back and we knew that using our posts was the best way to make our run,” Heller said. “It’s awesome having [Thomas] back.
“Now we have three bigs and no one can match them. We have plays set up for the posts and we know that they’re going to finish and that’s just how we’re going to get a lot of our points.”
Indeed, the Hilltoppers have a formidable front line when they use Thomas, 6-2 junior Taylor Huff and 6-1 senior Nicholette Adamski together. Huff, who had eight points, six rebounds and three assists, started the big run with an inside basket and capped it with two free throws to extend the lead to 41-20 with 1:35 left.
“[Thomas] looked great tonight,” Faulkner said. “She was out for a long time and now she’s starting to get her legs back and getting in basketball shape.
“When she plays like that, she’s really tough to stop inside and then you combine that with Taylor and Nikki, to have the three of them rotate with that kind of size, it’s tough to go inside.”
The Trojans never could get the ball inside consistently and struggled shooting from the perimeter. Emporia State recruit Jayln Harris, a 6-2 senior, was held to four points and the Trojans shot 20 percent, missing 14 straight shots in the second half.
“I thought we showed a lot of maturity,” Faulkner said. “It’s a great conference and we had a lot of respect for Downers Grove North and what they’ve done this season.
‘They’ve got a lot of great players, but I was really proud of our team.”