AURORA – Nursing a one-point lead with less than a minute left, St. Charles East sophomore guard Katie Claussner knew hoisting a 3-point shot might offend her coach’s basketball sensibilities.
But the ball felt awfully good in Claussner’s palms.
Just a few feet in front of the Saints’ bench from the left wing, Claussner let the shot fly, and buried it, the most dramatic moment in a highly entertaining, 68-61 East win against Metea Valley in Thursday’s regular season-closing crossover between the second-place teams in the Upstate Eight’s River and Valley divisions.
Claussner acknowledged heavy-duty relief when the shot fell, not only because it gave East a 63-59 lead with 54 seconds to play, but also to stave off a potential lecture from coach Lori Drumtra.
“It was just a perfect setup, there was nobody on me, but I definitely heard my coach behind me,” Claussner said. “It got me a little scared.”
Less than a minute earlier, the 5-foot-5, left-handed guard had drained another 3-ball from almost the same spot, a go-ahead shot that gave the Saints (16-11) a 60-57 edge with 1:33 to play. Claussner tied her career high with 20 points on the night, and made three of East’s five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
Considering how hot Claussner was, Drumtra could live with the brazen shot selection.
“Typically we would probably be trying to take some time off the clock and get to the line or something like that, but that’s confidence – give her credit,” Drumtra said. “She had confidence, and she had an open look, too, so sometimes you don’t want to stop those shooters when they feel it.
“She was worried that I was going to get mad at her, but I said, ‘No, it’s fine – as long as it goes in, I’m OK with that.’ ”
East canned a whopping 13 3-pointers on the night, and they needed just about all of them to compensate for Metea Valley 6-foot-2 senior center Lori Obendorf’s monster night.
The Saints thought they had their hands full with Obendorf the first time the teams met but, turns out, they hadn’t seen anything yet.
Obendorf, who scored 24 points in a six-point Metea win against East in December, made her first 12 shots from the floor Thursday and didn’t miss until a put-back wouldn’t drop in the final minute. She finished with 27 points, 13 rebounds and two blocked shots.
“When we get her the ball, she finishes with it. We’ve just got to get her the ball more,” said Metea coach Kris Kalivas, whose team is 22-6 but without two injured starters since the earlier meeting with the Saints.
Obendorf surpassed the 1,000 career point mark during a first half in which she made all nine of her field goal attempts, virtually all chip shots around the rim.
The Saints packed in their defense more tightly around her in the second half and were able to limit her touches.
“I said if she went to the bathroom, we were going with her,” Drumtra said. “Just trying to get a body in front of her and not leave her.”
Despite Obendorf running roughshod early, the Saints remained competitive, down only 30-28 at the break, thanks largely to six 3-pointers in the half, four from junior guard Amanda Hilton.
Hilton hit two more 3-pointers in the second half and finished with 19 points. She was proud of the way the Saints’ offense flowed against a quality opponent like the Mustangs.
“The points stood out, but more importantly the assists,” Hilton said. “We passed the ball very well to each other and found the open girl, and hit our shots, which was very nice, also.”
Mustangs junior guard Jenny Voytell scored 23 points and keyed a Metea spurt early in the fourth quarter. Obendorf (13 for 14 from the floor, 1 of 2 from the foul line) and Voytell accounted for 50 of the home team’s 61 points.
East senior guard Carly Pottle chipped in 12 points, including a pull-up bank shot in transition that put the Saints up, 57-55, with 2:45 left in the game.
Hilton and Pottle have been consistently productive throughout the season. If Claussner – who impressed her new varsity teammates during the summer – can extend her emergence to regionals next week on East’s home floor, the Saints will take their chances.
“I knew she was hiding it somewhere,” Hilton said. “It’s starting to come out, and it’s great timing for the postseason. She’s a great player. I’m very happy to be playing with her.”