MAPLE PARK – With 15 points in the fourth quarter alone, Shannon Blacher was leading Montini’s charge from 15 down in the final frame against Sycamore in the Class 3A Kaneland Sectional final.
But her layup attempt at the buzzer in traffic didn’t fall and the Spartans held on for a 57-56 win for the first sectional title in school history.
“It feels like everything we ever worked for paid off,” said Sycamore senior Ella Shipley, who finished with 11 points and five rebounds. “We worked so hard and just to see us come together, our community come together, we have never felt more supported. I can’t think of a better moment.”
The Spartans last played in a sectional final two years ago, facing the Broncos and losing. Montini ended up taking third in 3A that year.
While the Broncos mostly reloaded since then, the Spartans had a lot of the same players, including Shipley, Carrier and Faith Feuerbach - who scored 10 on Thursday.
“Having that kind of redemption game, it gives us confidence that we not only improved over those two years, but we came together and we came even closer,” Shipley said. “They’re a hard-working team and props to them because they’re amazing.”
The Spartans (32-2) led 25-9 early in the second quarter. Montini (25-9) chipped away a couple times, but Sycamore grew the lead back to 45-30 after a layup by Evyn Carrier with 6:43 left. Carrier finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in the win.
“The first half we played awful,” Montini coach Shannon Spanos said. “Defensively we struggled. Hats off to them, they shot really well. We knew we had to come out in the second half and change things up and pressure them. I thought our press gave them lots of issues.”
The Sycamore lead was still 49-39 with 2:59 left when the Broncos started to surge. Blacher made a pair of 3s in the final 3 minutes, including one with 1:03 left that made it a one-point game, 53-52.
Lexi Carlsen answered at the other end with a pair of free throws to push the lead to three, then Blacher got it to 55-53 with 28.5 left with a free throw of her own. Carrier followed with a layup on the press break to push the lead back to four, but Shea Carver drained a 3 with 6.7 seconds left to make it 57-56.
“It’s so surreal right now I don’t even think I’ve processed it,” said Carlsen, who had 13 points and eight rebounds. “This was for the seniors. We’ve never gotten the chance to win this game, and our seniors mean so much to our program there was no doubt in my mind when I hit those free throws those seniors were going to be the first ones I ran to after that.”
Carlsen was back at the line for a 1-and-1 and missed the front end. The Broncos raced down the court and Blacher ended up taking the layup, but it didn’t fall.
“We were right there at the end with 6 seconds left,” Spanos said. “Shannon went hard to the basket, had some contact, and that was it.”
Sawyer White and Victoria Matulevicius each scored 13 for the Broncos, who scored 20 points in the first half and trailed, 41-28, after three quarters. They scored 28 in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 from seven forced turnovers.
“I’m pretty sure I lost 10 years off my life,” Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said of the close nature of the final stretch of the game. “It’s just one of those things where you just hope the kids you’ve relied on the whole way stepped up and make plays. And we just talked about having poise down the stretch. And they gave us everything they had.”
Spanos said she was pleased with the season the Broncos had, and that the grit they showed Thursday was the same attitude they showed all year.
“That just shows us. Our culture. Our philosophy. Our grit,” Spanos said. “We never quit. They did it. They fought back, I think we were down 16 at one point. They don’t quit and they haven’t all season. We fought all season, so I wasn’t surprised by what they did tonight.”
Wickness also said he was impressed with the grit his team showed.
“Grit and resolve. Those are the two words that come to mind when I think about this game,” Wickness said. “We came out of the gates hot. Montini, being the team that it is, are going to make runs at you, going to make charges at you. And we withstood them and walked out of here with a W that means the absolute world to everybody in the gym, our community and our program.”