Knoch girls finally slay rival Freeport

Monday, February 3, 2020 | 11:25 PM

Moments after Lauren Cihonski hit a game-winning basket with four seconds remaining to help Knoch beat Freeport 53-52, the magnitude of what transpired hit her.

As teammates were hugging her and fans were screaming, tears started rolling down Cihonski’s face.

For three years, the Knights had been trying to beat their neighbors and Section 1-4A rivals and with one last opportunity to do so, Cihonski, a senior playing her final game at home, pushed the Knights over the top.

“This has been my dream in high school … to beat them and we finally did it,” Cihonski said. “Every time we lost to them, we knew we had to beat them, and this was the perfect night to do it.”

The win put Knoch (16-5, 11-2) in second place in the Section 1 standings while Freeport (13-6, 10-3) fell to third place. The Knights travel to Class 4A No. 1 North Catholic on Thursday to conclude section play and the Yellowjackets host Indiana.

With 10 seconds remaining, Madilyn Boyer inbounded the ball to freshman Nina Shaw, who passed it on the left side to Abbey Shearer, who found Cihonski wide open in the paint. She put in a shot off the glass for the game winner.

“There was nothing fancy with the strategy,” Knoch coach Chris Andreassi said. “It’s what we do. It’s dribble-drive and it starts with the ball in Nina’s hands. That’s what we said coming into that timeout. We wanted to get it to her, get it started and she did it.”

Shearer set up the game winner by drawing an offensive foul on a Freeport inbounds play after missing the front end of a one-and-one.

The win snapped a five-game losing streak for Knoch against Freeport. The Knights’ last win against the Yellowjackets was on Jan. 20, 2017.

“What can I say? It feels good,” Andreassi said. “Almost every game we’ve played against them has been a great game. (Freeport coach) Fred (Soilis) does such a good job, especially defensively. I love the Clarks (Maddie and Samantha) and (Sidney) Shemanski, but I’m not going to miss them. I wish them well in their future endeavors. The last four years playing against them has been tough.”

A three-point play by Boyer gave Knoch a 51-50 lead with 4:30 remaining, and then neither team scored again until Shemanski capitalized on a putback off an offensive rebound with 30 seconds to go.

Freeport led 30-27 at halftime and extended its lead even further early in the third quarter with a 15-4 run. Shemanski and Harley Holloway connected on 3-pointers during the stretch and the Yellowjackets enjoyed a 45-34 lead.

The Knights rallied with baskets from Shaw, Boyer and Cihonski to cut the lead to 46-45 by the end of the third.

“We gave up an 11-point lead and missed a considerable amount of foul shots that cost us the game,” Soilis said. “We beat ourselves more than they beat us, but hats off to them. I’m happy for Lauren as a senior to hit the game-winning shot in her last game at home, but it was a game we should have won.”

Boyer finished with a game-high 19 points. Shaw scored 16 and sank four 3-pointers.

“Since the last Freeport game, Madilyn has been playing tremendous basketball,” Andreassi said. “Teams have made an effort to try and lock down Nevaeh (Ewing), and Madilyn and Nina have taken advantage. Madilyn has been getting great penetration in the lane and shooting the ball well.”

Shemanski led the Yellowjackets with 16 points. Holloway came off the bench to score 15 and sank a trio of 3-pointers.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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