Girls basketball: Aria Mazza money again late, Benet stuns No. 1 Bolingbrook in sectional semifinal

Junior guard hits go-ahead 3-pointer, free throws in final seconds of 55-52 Redwings’ win

Benet’s Aria Mazza (3) drives to the basket against Bolingbrook's Persais Williams (21) during a Oswego semifinal sectional 4A basketball game at Oswego High School on Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024.

OSWEGO – Aria Mazza, what are the odds?

For the second consecutive playoff game, Benet’s 5-foot-7 junior guard found herself at the free-throw line late, her team up one, the chance to salt away a win. Eerily, both times came with exactly 8.8 seconds left.

Here’s the big difference: this time the opponent was Bolingbrook, a No. 1 sectional seed, ranked No. 1 in Illinois by MaxPreps and nationally ranked.

Not that it mattered to Mazza.

“I started smiling. I was thinking this is the same thing as against Neuqua,” Mazza said. “I just took a deep breath again. Excited to knock them down.”

Mazza was money on multiple occasions. She stuck a 3-pointer in the final three minutes that gave fourth-seeded Benet the lead for good. Her two free throws provided breathing room and the eventual margin of the 55-52 stunner in the Class 4A Oswego Sectional semifinal.

Benet (24-6) advanced to Thursday’s sectional final with Waubonsie Valley, a rematch from last year, and now has reached the sectional final in all nine postseasons under head coach Joe Kilbride.

Business as usual Tuesday?

Hardly. Benet handed Bolingbrook (26-4) its first loss to an in-state opponent on Illinois soil this season. The Redwings usually wear the favorite’s hat, but clearly enjoyed the role of underdog.

“It’s a big win. They’re ranked No. 1 in the state and I think deservedly so,” Kilbride said. “I told our girls, I found this quote, there’s nothing as dangerous as a woman with nothing to lose and we had nothing to lose. Everybody in the state thinks Bolingbrook is going to beat us by 20. Everything thinks that, here we go.”

Emma Briggs had 14 points and seven rebounds and a big steal that preceded Mazza’s free throws. A second sophomore starter, Bridget Rifenburg, scored 10 points. Juniors Lindsay Harzich and Mazza each scored nine.

Trinity Jones had 25 points, six rebounds and six steals and Jasmine Jones added 10 points for Bolingbrook.

Benet led by seven in the first half at 21-14 and then got behind by six points twice in the second half, but the Redwings wouldn’t go away against the favored opponent.

“We just came in here as underdogs and wanted to prove everybody wrong,” Mazza said. “We know what we’re capable of.”

Bolingbrook's Trinity Jones (10) drives to the hoop against Benet’s Shannon Earley (25) during a Oswego semifinal sectional 4A basketball game at Oswego High School on Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024.

Mazza certainly is capable of hitting big shots, and big free throws, even though Kilbride noted her percentage at the line this season surprisingly doesn’t reflect that.

“It’s funny, at practice a couple days ago we were shooting and I told her it’s weird that she’s not shooting better at the free-throw line because she’s such a good shooter. She was shooting well everywhere but the free-throw line,” Kilbride said. “She says, ‘I don’t know. I think it’s because I’m taking my time’ and I said, ‘Don’t take your time.’ Obviously, she’s making them when they matter.”

Indeed, she was 4-for-4 Tuesday after the clinching free throw in the regional final against Neuqua Valley. And, on top of that, the 3-pointer that put Benet ahead to stay at 48-46 with 2:50 left.

“Just taking the open shot,” Mazza said. “I knew my team needed it.”

Jones’ coast-to-coast score with 6:19 left had Bolingbrook up 44-38 and she almost had a second with 1:03 left and the Raiders trailing 52-48, but it was waved off on an offensive foul that was met with howls of protest from the Bolingbrook bench.

What really burned Bolingbrook coach Chris Smith, though, were the 18 missed layups he counted against Benet’s zone defense.

“We just never got into a rhythm tonight at all,” Smith said. “We let their zone bother us. You can’t beat good teams when you miss layup opportunities. Eighteen of them, that’s 36 points, we take half of them it’s a different outcome. We just had to make shots when we had them.”

Benet’s zone kept Jones in check for much of the first half, but the 6-foot-1 sophomore asserted herself in a hurry to turn the game. She scored 11 points in less than two minutes’ time, with three 3-pointers, to key a 10-0 run to finish the half with Bolingbrook ahead 27-24.

Benet’s Lindsay Harzich (12) dives for a loose ball against Bolingbrook's Jasmine Jones (40) during a Oswego semifinal sectional 4A basketball game at Oswego High School on Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024.

Jasmine Jones’ jumper a minute into the second half had Bolingbrook ahead 31-25, but Benet stuck with it. The Redwings cleaned up their defensive rebounding to make the battle on the glass a push, attacked the Raiders’ pressure to get to the free-throw line 18 times in the second half and the energetic zone gave Bolingbrook fits at times.

“We did a good job of just staying steady and I thought our defense was exceptional subbing two at a time,” Kilbride said. “Our effort on the defensive end was outstanding. We were very active.”

Trinity Jones’ steal in the backcourt and baseline drive and finger roll had Bolingbrook within 53-52, but after Briggs missed two free throws for Benet she came up with the ball when Jones lost it on a drive.

“We’ve seen zones all season long,” Smith said. “We just had to make the shots. Fact of the matter is we had opportunities and didn’t take advantage. At the end of the day we can blame nobody but ourselves. We’ve got to take ownership.”

Joshua  Welge

Joshua Welge

I am the Sports Editor for Kendall County Newspapers, the Kane County Chronicle and Suburban Life Media, covering primarily sports in Kendall, Kane, DuPage and western Cook counties. I've been covering high school sports for 24 years. I also assist with our news coverage.