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NORMAL — Thanks to a Montini miracle, the three-peat is alive and well.
The two-time defending state champion Broncos, down by 13 points early in the fourth quarter and by 9 with four minutes left, stormed back to shock No. 2 Hillcrest 52-48 Friday in the Class 3A semifinals at Redbird Arena.
Montini (32-5) will take on Vernon Hills (26-7), which earlier stunned No. 1 Springfield, at 2 p.m. Saturday in the 3A final. With a win the Broncos can join Teutopolis and Bolingbrook as the only girls basketball teams to win three straight state titles.
"This is one of the best games I've ever been a part of," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "What an awesome win. I'm so happy for the kids."
Jasmine Lumpkin's baseline driving score over a Hillcrest defender with 45 seconds left capped off the comeback, giving Montini the lead for good at 48-46.
"Coach told me to keep going baseline," Lumpkin said. "I saw an opening and I went for it."
It was a stunning turnaround.
Hillcrest (27-4), up 14 at one point in the first half and 42-29 seconds into the fourth quarter, led 44-35 with 5:28 left after a pair of free throws by Seton Hall recruit Shannise Heady.
Montini sophomore Kateri Stone, who missed her first 12 3-point shots, finally knocked one down with 3:39 left to start the comeback. A Hillcrest turnover followed, and Stone hit a long jumper to make it 44-40.
A minute later Lumpkin stole the ball from Heady in Hillcrest's backcourt, and Montini freshman Kelsey Bogdan buried just her third 3 of the year to cut it to 46-43. Hillcrest missed a pair of free throws, and Stone hit a corner 3 to tie the game 46-46.
"Toward the end coach said, 'If you're going to lose, leave it all on the floor,'" Stone said. "I didn't want to have any regrets. I kept taking shots, and eventually they fell."
After Lumpkin's go-ahead score, Hillcrest point guard Samirah Ali was called for traveling on a jump stop, negating a banked runner that would have tied it.
Stone, who scored 12 of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, clinched the win with 4 free throws in the final 15 seconds.
Hillcrest (27-4), with four senior starters back off a team that lost to Montini for the second straight year in the 2011 final, didn't resemble a veteran team late against ramped-up pressure.
The Hawks committed 8 turnovers in the fourth quarter and missed 4 free throws — including a pair of front ends of 1-and-1s.
"It got a little hectic there in the fourth quarter," said Hawks coach John Maniatis, staring straight ahead in shock, "and we didn't take advantage of some opportunities. This hurts."
"Our pressure," Nichols said, "dictated some tempo late."
Nikia Edom also scored 14 points for Montini before fouling out with 2:11 left, and Tianna Brown — the only returning starter off last year's state champs — had 10 points and 9 rebounds. Jasmine Sanders scored 13 points and Ali 12 for Hillcrest.
The Broncos showed their youth early, turning the ball over 19 times in the first half against Hillcrest's harried pressure. A 17-0 Hillcrest run — with Heady on the bench with three fouls — put the Hawks ahead 24-10, and it was 28-20 at halftime.
Montini, which two years ago hit a state final record 12 3s to beat Hillcrest for its first championship and 11 in last year's final, was ice-cold through three quarters, making just 2 of 19 shots from distance.
It was all just a prelude to one remarkable rally.
"What a gutsy win," Nichols said. "The kids, they found a way."