OSWEGO – Chelsea McCullum did Friday what she's done all season.
She started the game on the bench.
And sparked Oswego East off it.
On Senior Night, the junior guard's 20 points and five steals boosted the Wolves past Plainfield South 47-40 in the Southwest Prairie Conference.
"We had the motivation," McCullum said. "It's Senior Night, we had to play good for the seniors. I wanted to step up and help out."
McCullum has all season.
Her talent makes McCullum a tantalizing prospect to start. She had 28 points off the bench in one game this season, close to a program record. It's a hard decision to bring her off the bench, but the role suits McCullum.
'"She seems to play better off the bench," Oswego East coach Abe Carretto said. "The reason I like her is she brings offense and defense. She brings steals, deflections, can handle the ball, can cut through to get layups. And she's become a better 3-point shooter."
Oswego East (13-11, 9-4), which got 10 points from Abby Ford and eight from Christine Corpuz, needed that lift Friday.
The Wolves dug an early 13-3 hole. Ford's back-to-back 3-pointers and strong driving layup started a 13-0 run that got Oswego East ahead 16-13. But Plainfield South came right back with its own 11-0 run, and led 25-21 at the half.
McCullum took over from there.
Starting the second half, she turned a steal into a score, then split two free throws. Moments later McCullum got another steal, and went coast-to-coast to give Oswego East the lead for good at 27-25.
Ford's floater capped off a 13-0 run, making it 31-25.
"If the game is going like that, I'm going to be there to help out, to push the pace," McCullum said. "I like coming off the bench. If they need offense I can provide it. If they need defense, I can provide it."
She does that.
McCullum, with a lanky frame and long arms, is the ideal fit to play the top of Oswego East's 1-3-1 zone trap.
Once she gets a steal and into the open court, she's gone.
"It she gets a steal, it's a layup," Carretto said. "She's long and lanky, she disrupts, she's really come into her own. I knew she was capable of doing things like this. Once she started to shoot better and took care of the basketball better our team got better. I hope she is embracing the role because we really need it."
Oswego East's future is indeed bright in the backcourt, with junior guards like McCullum and Ford and a stabilizer in second-year varsity starter Corpuz, a sophomore. Forwards Chyna Scott and Carly Engelhardt also have promise.
With youth, there has been inevitable growing pains. Oswego East has coughed up a handful of late leads this year, but the Wolves have been consistently competitive.
"Every game in our conference, with the exception of Minooka, we've been in every game," Carretto said. "And if we have [senior] Amaya Johns [out all year with a torn ACL], we're not in that situation either. The good thing is other players that are younger are stepping up. Hopefully we're learning."
That appeared to be the case Friday.
Oswego East closed well, with McCullum's help. Nursing a 39-35 lead after Corpuz split two free throws with 2:40 left, McCullum again turned a steal into a coast-to-coast runout.
The Wolves never looked back.
"Coach always preaches that we have to finish the game," McCullum said. "Earlier in the season we'd give up those late leads. The second half of the season we've really developed as a team."