Persistence paid off Saturday afternoon for the Pekin girls basketball team.
Freshman Tess Cascia made a layup with 3.4 seconds left to give the Dragons a 50-49 win over East Moline United Township in a non-conference game at Hawkins Gym.
Cascia's basket came at the end of a play Pekin (10-16) had been trying to run all day without success.

"It's an out-of-bounds play that follows a made free throw," said Pekin coach Becky Fulkerson. "We tried it multiple times earlier in the game, and we couldn't get it right to save our lives. But you don't quit on it."

United Township (13-12) trailed 48-41 late in the fourth quarter but went ahead 49-48 on a free throw by Jasmine Bell.

Pekin's Natalie Righi in-bounded the ball following Bell's free throw and Maddy Cash eventually passed it to Cascia, who was all alone under the United Township basket.

"Tess caught the ball, turned around and shot, and there was still no one around her," Fulkerson said. "She hauled butt to get down there. I was so glad to see Tess get that last shot. We fed off her energy all day."

Pekin still had some work to do after Cascia's layup. After three timeouts, United Township had the ball at midcourt with .9 seconds to go.

With Cash and Cascia defending the taller Ryleigh O'Brien, the Panthers couldn't get a pass to O'Brien and the ball was deflected out of bounds.

Lauren Juergens led Pekin with 14 points and did a good job defensively against O'Brien, Fulkerson said. Juergens also had seven rebounds and a put-back at the halftime buzzer.

Cascia had 13 points including a 9-for-9 performance at the foul line that was a big reason for Pekin's 15-for-18 showing on free throws.
United Township was in front 25-23 at halftime and built its lead to 39-33 after three quarters.

Pekin's six-point deficit heading into the fourth quarter could have been larger.
The Dragons' Molly Flannigan sat out most of the third quarter after picking up her fourth foul just 12 seconds into the second half and Cash missed some time after being injured.

"Everyone stepped up when Molly and Maddy were on the bench in the third quarter," Fulkerson said.

Cash finished with nine points, giving her 1,012 for her career.

Izabella Sims led United Township with 17 points and O'Brien had 14, with 10 coming in the first quarter. O'Brien also had nine rebounds.

Pekin returns to Mid-Illini Conference action Tuesday night at Metamora.

Steve Stein can be reached at stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.