Trinity senior Lauren Lee scored 19 points as the Blazers held off Oak Park and River Forest 65-64 in overtime during a game on Thursday, Dec, 7 in Oak Park (File photo)

When local residents think of a high school girls basketball rivalry, the first matchup that likely comes to mind is Oak Park and River Forest vs. Fenwick. While it’s true the annual showdown between the Huskies and Friars is intense, the former’s rivalry with Trinity in River Forest is just as competitive and fun.

In the most recent meeting, Trinity squeaked past host OPRF 65-64 in overtime on Thursday, Dec. 7.

“It’s a rivalry game. It brings the best out of everybody,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said. “I thought the fans were awesome and it was a great atmosphere to play this game in. (OPRF coach) J.P. (Coughlin) does a great job with his team.”

In a series of games played between the three area rivals, here’s how each team finished. Trinity went 2-0, OPRF 1-1 and Fenwick 0-2. All the games were relatively close and very compelling.

The communities of Oak Park and River Forest are the biggest winners.

“It’s the best,” OPRF coach J.P. Coughlin said. “I’ve told the girls several times that when I first started coaching here, I was amazed that we didn’t play Fenwick and Trinity. 

“Luckily, we have been able to schedule those games in recent years and it’s something that the girls and the community look forward to. Getting to play two of the top programs in the state (Fenwick and Trinity) helps us in our conference play because of the intensity and atmosphere of these games.”

Alex Fanning led Trinity with 28 points and 14 rebounds against OPRF. Lauren Lee added 19 points and Kelcie Leyden had 11 points for the Blazers, who improved to 7-2.

“It’s fun because I have a lot of friends who go to OPRF,” said Lee, who lives in River Forest. “I had many of them here at this game and it was good to see everybody.”

The Huskies’ Darse Sanchez scored a game-high 32 points, to go with eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

“Darse has been fantastic,” Coughlin said. “She had 28 the other night in a win against Downers Grove. She tore her ACL in the second game of her freshman year. Darse certainly showed glimpses last year, but her confidence is sky high now. She is so fast and now that she is hitting her outside shots, she can be a read handful to stop.”

Grace Underhill contributed nine points and 10 rebounds and Ahsha Spencer chipped in eight points for OPRF (6-2). Maeve Nelson contributed eight rebounds, five assists and great defense.

“I thought we played super hard and I was really proud of the effort,” Coughlin said after the Trinity game. “Our kids have nothing to be ashamed of. Obviously a win would have been great, but somebody had to win. That being said, I know that both teams are capable of playing better.”

After a seesaw start in the opening quarter, Trinity gradually built an 18-11 lead. However, OPRF responded with a 14-0 run that spanned the final two minutes of the first quarter and the first three minutes of the second quarter to take a 25-18 advantage.

The Huskies took a 36-27 lead into halftime. Trinity adjusted in the second half by working inside-out offensively.

“We started going to the post in the second half and figured out what was working against them,” Valente said. “I thought Alex (Fanning) was huge and that’s what turned the tide of the game. OPRF shot the ball well in the first half and we were a little out of sync. The girls bought in to what we were doing and moved the ball well in the second half.”

At 6-foot-3, Fanning enjoyed a decided height advantage over the Huskies. The skilled senior, who hasn’t decided where she will play college basketball yet, facilitated the Trinity offense beautifully from the post. Whether scoring for herself or setting up teammates for baskets, Fanning ensured an offensive flow throughout the second half.

“Our effort in the second half was tremendous,” Fanning said. “We came out as hard as we could. I wouldn’t be able to do the things I do in the post without my teammates. All the girls pushed themselves and I’m proud of them.

“(OPRF) is a rivalry so we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” she added. “We were a little slow at the beginning, but came out strong in the second half and finished it up.”

With Fanning and the University of California, Santa Barbara-bound Lee doing the heavy lifting, Trinity chipped away at the Huskies’ lead. After three quarters, the Blazers trailed OPRF 53-51.

The fourth quarter featured an intense defensive battle between teams. The Blazers eventually took a 59-57 lead late in regulation, but a driving layup by Sanchez with 20 seconds remaining tied up the game at 59.

The Huskies had a chance to win at the end of regulation when Underhill had a good look in the left corner but her 3-point shot attempt was no good.

Fanning scores game-winner in OT

In overtime, Underhill converted a three-point play to put OPRF up 64-63 with a little over a minute left in overtime. Trinity showed patience on the next possession as Fanning scored to give the Blazers a 65-64 edge with 35 seconds left.

Underhill was fouled with 15 seconds remaining but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Three seconds later, the same situation occurred with Trinity’s Dayjah Chmielewski, setting up the Huskies with a chance to win the game.

With 1.8 seconds left, OPRF senior Amaya Coleman was fouled and awarded two free throws. Both were missed and Fanning secured the rebound as time expired. 

“Our struggle for us tonight was defense, but we picked it up in the fourth quarter and overtime,” Lee said. “We definitely played as a team and we did what we knew would work. We threw the ball in to Alex, she would kick it out, and we started hitting our jump shots. It was a good win for us.”

Valente had nothing but praise for Lee, a four-year varsity player.

“Lauren is a rock,” he said. “She does a little of everything. She guards the best player, she shoots the ball well, she controls the tempo, and her length gives teams a lot of trouble.”

In addition to an excellent skill set, Lee provides the Blazers so many intangibles.

“Her intelligence on the court really is the difference-maker for us,” Valente said. “She keeps all our kids under control and she knew what we wanted to do. It’s a big win for us.”

Making this win for the Blazers even more impressive was that it came with one of their best players – freshman Makiyah Williams – away from the team.

“Makiyah had to go somewhere, she’ll be back next week,” Valente said. “We had other kids step up in roles they usually don’t have. I’m excited to see what we can do especially when we get our full arsenal together.”

With upcoming games at the Dundee-Crown Holiday Tournament featuring many of the state’s top teams, a matchup with national power East Chicago Central at the Derrill Kipp Games in January at Willowbrook, and GCAC games left versus Marist, Mother McAuley, and St. Ignatius, all hands will need to be on deck for Trinity’s challenging schedule.

The Blazers believe they’ll be ready.

“All these games, especially a one-point overtime game like tonight, teach us about focus and discipline,” Lee said. “They’re particularly helpful for the younger girls.”

OPRF, a contender to win the West Suburban Conference Silver Division, faces host Benet Academy on Saturday, Dec. 9. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. in Lisle.

The Huskies take on the Redwings as part of the Naperville North/Benet Academy Holiday Tournament.

“At 6-2, we’re very happy with our start,” Coughlin said. “Both of our losses have been in overtime, so we have to get better at closing games.”

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