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Wolves still stumped in finals : Sports : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Wolves still stumped in finals
Oswego East advances to regional title, falls to Neuqua Valley

by Laura M. Medina


It's become familiar territory for Oswego East's girls' basketball team to reach the regional championship game in recent years, but the squad again came up short in its quest for hardware, falling 63-37 to Neuqua Valley in a Class 4A regional at Plainfield South on Friday.

Both teams turned in strong performances on Feb. 19, with the top-seeded Wildcats defeating Joliet West 77-33, and the Wolves triumphing over Naperville Central 70-54.

And with Friday's win, the Wildcats advanced to the first round of the Joliet Central Sectional on Monday night, defeating Benet to set up a meeting against Oswego today, Thursday at 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, Oswego East (17-12) has reached the regional title game three of the last four seasons, but has remained snake-bitten in those appearances. In its previous two such games, the Wolves lost to Waubonsie Valley in 2011 and 2012.

Third-year head coach Abe Carretto was hoping for a "third time's the charm" outcome for the Wolves, and it appeared possible following a relatively close first half.

"We got here. We beat Naperville Central for the first time ... and we showed that we can play," Carretto said. "We just needed to do that for four quarters."

Neuqua Valley opened the game with a basket before Oswego East reeled off seven straight points, led by senior guard Venita Parsons' five to command the lead.

The Wildcats responded with an 11-0 run of their own to jump ahead again, but the Wolves scored the final five of the quarter.

Parsons had three rebounds and two steals on the night, as well as seven points on the night, just a few days after becoming Oswego East's first 1,000-point scorer in the girls' basketball program.

"Venita was a freshman the first time we were here, and now, we've been here for three out of four years, so we've just gotta get over the hump," Carretto said.

"You're doing something right (to get to the regional championship), and this shows them what they need to do to get here (in the future)."

With only one point separating the two teams, it wasn't surprising that the Wildcats came out firing in the second, stringing together a 13-4 stretch in 4:02 of play to lead 25-16. The Wolves challenged as the quarter rounded out but trailed 29-20 at halftime.

Both teams kept pace with one another in the first half of the third, but Oswego East remained on the losing end of the 34-24 lead.

Neuqua Valley would see to it that the opposition would not get any closer down the stretch. The team surged for a 14-4 run to end the quarter. Senior guard Julianna Wadsworth's basket with about 50 seconds left in the third would put the Wolves at a 46-28 disadvantage.

Wadsworth finished with eight points, as well as five rebounds and three steals.

"Our team really turned it around and played good basketball," Carretto said.

"We rebounded well, but these last few weeks, we did so a little bit better. We rebounded well in the first half, but we couldn't put it back to get those points."

Again, the Wildcats attacked with a fury in the fourth, scoring nine straight - four from forward-center Bryce Menendez and a three-pointer from guard Niki Lazar - to open a 27-point lead.

A three-pointer ended the scoring drought with about four minutes left in the game, but Lazar added five more points to increase the lead and further prevent Oswego East from a late comeback.

Both teams played their reserves in the final three minutes of competition, and when the final buzzer sounded, it was Neuqua Valley enjoying the spoils of a regional title.

"I think the one thing that we can take from this is that in order for them to beat us, they had to pressure us," Carretto said. "We got out to a good start, and then, they came back. Later, we just had a hard time getting those good looks, but then again, that's what that team makes you do - put up some shots and throw the ball away at times.

"The thing I like was that in order for them to beat us, they had to do that. Next year, when we meet them again somewhere, we'll be more prepared for them, and we'll have our freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors ready to win this regional."

Parsons, Wadsworth, and forward-center Sonja Lewis will graduate in a few months, leaving Oswego East with a young squad. Fans have already been able to get a peek at the future in junior forward-center Bri McWaine (two points, five rebounds), junior point guard Nia Flowers (four rebounds), and freshman forward-center Sydney Schultz (six points, 12 rebounds), and the team is certain to add a few more pieces prior to next season.

"Our girls at the sophomore and freshman level are doing well, but we're losing three key seniors, plus, the 1,000 points from Venita," Carretto said. "Somebody will hopefully step up for her next year."

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