Neuqua Valley’s Quinn Sigal did not play as a freshman appearing in her first high school playoff game on Monday.
The undersized center had a huge impact on the game, especially for someone who didn’t make a basket and attempted just two shots.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous,” Sigal said. “I was definitely nervous. But as the game progressed I felt more comfortable.
“Towards the end, I was getting a little nervous again, but when we got those steals and got that lead, I was pretty confident we were going to come out with a win.”
The host Wildcats did just that, holding off upset Naperville Central 68-56 in the 4A Neuqua Valley Regional semifinals.
Fifth-seeded Neuqua Valley (19-10) advances to play fourth-seeded Benet (22-6), which beat West Aurora 57-34, in the regional final at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Neuqua Valley Senior Guard/Forward Kylee Norkus She scored 13 of her game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, including eight points during a final 15-0 run, but she gushed about her younger teammate.
“Quinn was our superhero today,” Norkus said. “I mean, she’s 5ft 4in down and she’s stronger than everyone else down there.
“She was very well. “She was the one who helped us get out of the hole, and I thank her so much for that because that’s really what got our adrenaline going, so I was extremely proud of her.”
The Wildcats had beaten 12th-seeded Naperville Central (12-20) by 18 points and 30 points during the regular season. But the Redhawks were willing to rewrite that script.
“We were really prepared for this game,” Naperville Central senior center Adriana Villanova said. “Our adrenaline was really pumping.
“We also didn’t want our season to end without giving 110%, so that’s what we did. We almost had them. It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but that’s life.”
second year guard Erin Hackett scored 17 points, freshman guard Emerson Burke He added 13 points and Villanova had nine points and 10 rebounds for the Redhawks, who rallied from a 10-point deficit to take a 56-53 lead.
Neuqua Valley senior guard Caitlin Washington, who finished with 20 points, scored on a drive and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Sigal grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2:18 left. It was Sigal’s fourth offensive rebound of the game.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to help the team win,” he said. “I haven’t scored much and I just wanted to get that rebound. “I was really determined to get it and I was very happy to be able to do it.”
Sigal made both free throws to put the Wildcats ahead and stay within 57-56. He finished with four points, all on free throws.
“I felt really safe,” she said. “He was calm and collected, and he was just looking at the rim. He was focused on: ‘I need to do this for the team and start this momentum.’”
The Wildcats took advantage of that momentum and literally ran with it. The Redhawks missed their last five shots, while Norkus, Washington and sophomore guard Nalia Clifford each made two free throws and senior guard Zoe Navarro added another.
“I thought we played really well and then the last two and a half minutes just didn’t do what we needed,” Naperville Central coach Andy Nussbaum said. “I’m very disappointed.
“We told them from the first game that our goal would be to play as well as we can and be happy with doing our best and still be unhappy about not winning. That’s how this game went perfectly.”
Norkus, an Evansville recruit, made her final six shots, including two layups in the final minute, and finished 11 of 17 with 11 rebounds and a game-high three steals.
“Honestly, I wasn’t even looking at my stats,” he said. “I was just looking at the score and how close it was and what I need to do for this team because I’m not leaving here and having this be my last game.
“Yes, we had some ugly moments. We also had some nice moments.”
The Wildcats will have at least one more moment in the playoffs against Benet, who beat them 60-58 on December 27.
“I’m very excited to play against Benet on Thursday,” Norkus said. “They are a great team, so we will see how much we have grown since the beginning of the season. But I’m also very proud of the team tonight.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter.