ST. CHARLES – The ball was knocked away in the final seconds, and right into the waiting arms of Emma Ludwig.
Which seemed appropriate.
Ludwig, St. Charles North's point guard, seemed to have a magnet for the ball Tuesday. In several key spots, she was there for a big basket, a rebound or a made free throw. Some players just have that knack.
It's unique for a high school freshman.
"Isn't it funny how the ball seems to just find those players all the time?" North coach Mike Tomczak said. "It's not an accident. The kid just has a nose for the ball. She's been doing it for years."
Several big Ludwig plays throughout, and stellar North Stars' defense, added up to a 42-31 win over Geneva in the DuKane Conference Tuesday.
The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 7 at Geneva, postponed because of the Geneva teachers' strike to Jan. 22, then moved back twice because of weather – and finally played at 4 p.m. Tuesday in St. Charles, an early start to beat the frigid temperatures.
Not that Ludwig minded.
She scored six of her 15 points in the first quarter, springing the North Stars to a 13-6 start. She calmly handled Geneva's pressure defense. And then Ludwig hit seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter to help salt away the win. Geneva trailed 36-22 with 5:11 left, pulled within 37-31 on a Cassidy Navigato 3-pointer with a minute to play but couldn't draw closer.
"It was a little unusual to play this early, we usually play at 7:15, but hey no excuses, it was 4 p.m. we all came and showed up," said Ludwig, who also had eight rebounds. "The fact that they're the two-time state champions and North beat them, it's a huge accomplishment – but there's more to come."
Especially with a youngster with Ludwig's moxie.
She got North started well, flipping in a runner and driving through the heart of Geneva's defense to end the first quarter.
In the final seconds of the third quarter, Geneva missed a layup – and Ludwig beat the Vikings' defense and the buzzer the other way for a runout layup and 33-21 lead.
In the final minute of regulation, as the Vikings were mounting a steady comeback, Ludwig twice came down with the defensive rebound of missed 3-pointers.
"Watching her growth and evolution this year has been phenomenal," said Tomczak, whose team never trailed. "Thrusting her into that starting spot in a varsity position as a freshman and watching her grow and mature, she just has a calm presence. The sky is the limit."
Ludwig said that North practiced a new press break just 30 minutes before the game. The North Stars did much better handling Geneva's pressure than last week's meeting, a 52-43 Geneva win, and Ludwig's cool hand was one reason why.
"Our coach said we have to slow down," Ludwig said. "My teammates, they trust me that I can handle the ball and I trust that I can handle the ball."
Emma Nawara scored nine points and helped lead a stellar North Stars' defensive effort, and Annie Tate had seven points and 10 rebounds for North (14-10, 5-5).
Lindsay Blackmore had seven points and five rebounds and Kelly McCloughan had seven points for Geneva (16-9, 8-2), held to a season-low point total. The Vikings shot just 21 percent (20-for-46), and missed several point-blank shots.
"We just didn't have it offensively," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "We had so many missed layups that we almost put a crack in the backboard."
Because of Wheaton Warrenville South's loss to Batavia, Geneva remained tied atop the DuKane.
Meadows was salty about the outcome, and not just her team's shooting.
On two occasions, instead of grabbing a rebound, the Vikings tapped it around. One of those times, the ball went right to Ludwig, who passed to Nawara for an open jump shot.
"Just grab the ball; if you can put both hands on the ball, just grab the ball," Meadows said. "I just think for us we got frustrated in the first half with the lack of makes."
North, which never trailed, contributed to that.
Tomczak noted that the North Stars' defense is holding opponents to the lowest points per game in the sectional, and they played like it Tuesday.
"We have athletes that just want to get after it and hang their hat on defense," Tomczak said. "You hold a team under 40 points, you give yourselves a chance."