Ex-Niles player Marianne Krezeczowski, now with Howland, scored 26 points.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
NILES -- Niles High's War Memorial gymnasium used to be Marianne Krezeczowski's playground. For 32 minutes Saturday, it was her's again.
Krezeczowski returned to her old school and poured in 26 points to lead the Howland High girls basketball team to a 64-50 Metro Athletic Conference victory over the Red Dragons.
"It was hard," Krezeczowski admitted. "Adrenaline? Yeah, [it was high]. I was a little nervous."
A senior shooting guard, Krezeczowski transferred to Howland before the school year with her sister, Kristy, who added eight points Saturday.
Niles led: Together, they helped prevent an upset by the Red Dragons (4-8, 0-4), who built a 13-3 first-quarter lead. That deficit didn't come as a surprise to Howland coach John Diehl.
"I explained that [Niles] was going to play the game of their lives to try to beat us," Diehl said. "We told the girls that we could be behind at halftime. We just had to keep our composure and hopefully let [Niles] wear down."
Marianne Krezeczowski scored 18 of her team-high total in the first half, including 11 in the second quarter when Howland (10-1, 3-1) rallied to take the lead.
"I was just trying to stay focused," she said. "My teammates got me open really well by setting screens. We worked the ball around really well and we played hard."
First lead: Emily Andrews' 3-pointer with four minutes remaining in the first half gave Howland its first lead, 23-21, and the Tigers, who also got 11 points from Kristina Ferenac, didn't trail again.
While Howland has benefited from the Krezeczowskis' play, Niles has suffered. Their departure, combined with several injuries, have left the Red Dragons reeling this season. Niles coach Marc Morgan has felt the impact.
"Don't get me wrong, I love the kids," Morgan said of the Krezeczowskis, "but I feel cheated in a way.
"Imagine them on our team, what the difference would be," he said. "That's what's tough every day, knowing what could have been and what is."
Expectations: Morgan had high expectations for his team this season, and those plans included the Krezeczowskis. But they transferred and injuries hit hard.
"I have so much time invested in them," Morgan said. "That's the part that hurts."
The Red Dragons' play Saturday, especially in the opening minutes, finally offered Morgan a glimpse of hope this season. The coach even admitted Saturday's game forced him to sweat for the first time this season.
"I'm pleased with how we played, with who we had on the floor," said Morgan, who received a technical foul in the second quarter. "We haven't played that hard this season. At least my kids came out and busted their butt."
In the end, Howland had too much talent and too much depth.
Stacia Ray scored a game-high 28 points for Niles, but she did it on 10-of-32 shooting.