With leading scorer Abby Lustig (illness) suddenly out of the lineup, the Staples girls basketball team needed a second scorer to provide offense to old off a gutsy opponent.
Up stepped Tessa Mall, who delivered a ferocious performance on both ends of the court to deliver an important victory for the Wreckers.
Mall had 14 points, nine rebounds and five steals as Staples drew to within two wins of a state tournament appearance with a 46-32 win over visiting Harding on Monday night. The Wreckers improved to 6-10 on the season with four games remaining.
"It might have been a little too close for comfort," Staples coach Ed Huydic said. "All in all, I was very satisfied with the performance of the makeshift lineup that we had to go to, and the stepping up of some of the kids did to answer the bell."
Lustig didn't play after halftime for Staples, who also lost Kelsey Bobrow to an injury before the game. The Wreckers utilized a variety of lineups to create enough offense to win.
"We just had to get our confidence up and work together to figure out what clicked," Mall said. "It was a good chance to work together in new lineups; usually we have Abby scoring the 20 points every night."
Staples opened up a 20-point lead in the third quarter, courtesy of a 12-2 run to begin the second half. Mall scored six in the stretch to give the Wreckers a 35-15 lead.
Harding went on an 11-1 run to pull to within 11 with 6:34 left in the game behind three 3-pointers from La La Francois (11 points), but Staples never allowed the visitors to get closer.
The Wreckers started off slowly offensively, but had a comfortable halftime lead thanks to a stellar defensive effort. Mall scored four points to close the first quarter and a layup at the half made the score 23-11.
"Defensively we played really well and kept (Harding's) weapons out of the way for most of the game," Huydic said. "I thought our transition offense worked really well."
Staples hosts St. Joseph Tuesday on senior night. The Wreckers then visit Bridgeport Central (Friday) and Norwalk (next Monday) before finishing the season at home against Westhill (Feb. 19). Staples needs two wins from those games to qualify for the Class LL tournament.
"We have a really good defense," Mall said. "If we use that transition well and use it to work well on offense, I think that will help us progress to states."