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All the close losses finally paid off for Geneva, and it couldn't have come at a better time.
Take all the frustration Geneva felt from a 2-point loss to St. Charles North, a 2-point loss to Bartlett and a 1-point loss to Springfield. It doesn't add up to half the joy the Vikings experienced after erasing a 5-point fourth quarter deficit to beat Rockton Hononegah 70-60 Tuesday night in the Class 4A Jacobs sectional.
Katelyn Allen scored a career-high 23 points including six 3-pointers, the final one breaking a 56-56 tie with 2:11 left in the game.
"I knew that somebody had to hit a shot and I felt it was my turn to step up," Allen said, who took a feed from Kat Yelle and knocked down her shot from the right corner. "It felt good. It was really exciting, I was like, 'Go in, go in' and when it went in I was like, 'Yes!'"
After trailing 56-51 with 5:08 to go, Geneva blitzed Hononegah with a 16-0 run to decide the game. Junior Ashley Santos, despite battling foul trouble and facing Hononegah's box-and-1, scored 11 of her 17 points in the fourth quarter. Yelle added 16 points.
"It's really nice because we were like, 'When are we going to win a close game?'" said Geneva senior Kat Yelle, who added 6 assists with her future Ohio University coach Semeka Randall watching.
"We've lost all the close games we've had. It definitely gives us a lot of confidence going into the next game that if we get down in the fourth quarter we can come back because we did."
Geneva (24-6) will play Cary-Grove (27-3) for the sectional championship at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Trojans, who lost to Geneva in last year's sectional semifinals, defeated Huntley 57-37 in the first semifinal Tuesday.
On a night Fenwick and Bartlett were knocked out of the tournament, Geneva found a way to advance.
"We hit big shots when we needed," Geneva coach Gina Nolan said. "A win is awesome anytime but the way we did it is just phenomenal."
Geneva looked in command when a pair of Allen 3-pointers sandwiched Santos' 2 free throws for a 46-34 lead midway through the third quarter.
Hononegah responded with a 16-3 burst to close the third quarter, the final basket coming on 6-foot-4 Nicole Smith's putback at the buzzer for a 50-49 lead heading to the fourth.
Smith's roll continued with the first 2 buckets of the fourth quarter, putting Geneva in a 56-51 hole. Santos, with just 2 points in a first half that she picked up 3 fouls, started the comeback with a pair of pull-up jumpers in the lane. She followed with a 3-pointer that tied the game at 56 with 4:06 left.
Hononegah's Lindsay Carroll, who advanced in the 3-point contest before the game, missed a front end of a 1-and-1. That was part of one empty trip after another down the stretch. Sami Pawlak came up with a pair of steals, Santos had another, Yelle forced a jump ball to give the Vikings the ball back, and Hononegah missed a 3-pointer.
Santos' baseline jumper with 1:22 left followed Allen's 3 for a 61-56 Geneva lead. The Vikings hit 9 of 10 free throws in the fourth quarter (19 of 22 in the game), with Allen, Santos and Yelle all converting to ice the game in the final minute. Kelsey Pease also was 4 of 4.
Geneva needed all of that to overcome all-stater Brea Edwards' 20 points, including 12 of 14 at the line, and 15 rebounds.
"They have a great team," Hononegah coach Randy Weibel said. "We knew we were going to have our hands full. I think we beat ourselves in the first half but they definitely beat us in the second."
Smith, who had missed 8 games this year with an ankle injury including the team's two regional wins, returned Tuesday. On Monday, Weibel had called her doubtful to play.
Smith blocked Allen's shot on Geneva's first possession. She didn't have much of an impact in the first half with 2 points but came alive late in the third quarter during Hononegah's comeback and finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
After getting that first shot blocked, Allen backed her game up to the 3-point arc and nailed 3 of them in the first half.
While Smith was a nonfactor early, Edwards picked up the slack with 12 first-half points. Elizabeth Jordan also hurt Geneva with three 3-pointers, yet it wasn't enough to keep up with Geneva who made 10 of 15 shots in the second quarter.
Yelle closed the half with a drive, pumped faked Smith and leaned in and scored just before the halftime buzzer for a 34-25 halftime lead. Earlier in the quarter, Yelle switched to her left hand to finish in traffic over Smith, and on the other end took a charge when Edwards flew down the lane.