NORMAL -- For all the excitement the Bartlett girls basketball team brought its fans and followers this season, it was only fitting the last game of the year would also be the most thrilling.
Senior Kristin Conniff hit a huge 3-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation and senior Lisa Palmer scored 7 points and had 3 rebounds in overtime as the Hawks outlasted Loyola Academy 61-59 to grab the third-place trophy in the Class 4A state finals at Redbird Arena.
"What a great game," said a visibly exhausted Bartlett coach Denise Sarna. "It was a fierce battle between two good teams with a lot of big plays both ways. I'm just extremely proud of the way our kids gutted it out."
The Hawks (32-2) had to. They struggled through a 7 of 22 first half shooting and their leading scorer, senior Haley Videckis, was saddled with foul trouble and held without a point in the first 16 minutes. But behind Conniff's 10 first-half points Bartlett trailed just 20-18 at the break.
"We needed to be more patient and go inside but they had three people there all the time," said Sarna.
Bartlett trailed 37-31 with under a minute left in the third quarter when one possession may have turned the momentum for good. Palmer made it 37-32 by making the first of 2 free throws and when she missed the second, Videckis' putback made it 37-34. Videckis was fouled on the play but the Indiana recruit missed the free throw. Palmer, however, grabbed the offensive rebound and kicked out to Conniff, who buried a 3-pointer to tie the game at 37.
"I don't think I've ever seen 6 points on one possession like that," said Loyola coach Jeremy Schoenecker.
Loyola (26-9) didn't let the swing faze it though. In fact, the Ramblers took a 48-44 lead on two free throws from Anna Schueler with 36 seconds left in regulation. Videckis was fouled shooting a 3-pointer and made all three free throws to make it a 48-47 game with 25 seconds left, and Loyola's Michelle Ricolcol (17 points) made 2 from the line with 18 seconds to go to put the Ramblers back up by 3, 50-47.
Then, with 10 seconds left, Conniff (21 points) got free in the corner and drained possibly the biggest 3-pointer of her career to tie the game at 50. Schueler's 3-pointer for the win with two seconds to go went in and out to send the heart-stopping affair to overtime.
"Haley told me she was going to be covered and to run her spot," Conniff said of the game-tying shot. "I got a nice pick, I curled and took my shot."
"We made a little mistake there by not switching out on the 3 but give (Conniff) credit for knocking it down," said Schoenecker.
The overtime period became what may have been Palmer's best four minutes of the season. After Maggie Nick made two free throws to put Loyola up 52-50, Palmer, the 6-foot Wisconsin-Whitewater recruit, scored on a putback to tie it. Loyola went up 54-52 on a basket from Lauren Kriz, then Palmer snagged yet another offensive board, scored and was fouled. She calmly sank the free throw to give Bartlett the lead for good, 55-54, with 2:36 left.
"I just tried rebounding hard," said Palmer, whose double-double included 14 points and 16 rebounds, one board shy of a state tournament record. "It's my last game. Senior year. You have to go out with a bang."
Loyola misfired on its next possession and with 1:55 to play, Videckis (15 points) gave the Hawks a thimble of breathing room when she buried a 3-pointer from the corner, her 74th of the season, to make it 58-54. But the Ramblers weren't done. Schueler, who finished 2-for-23 shooting, hit her only 3-pointer of the night in 10 tries, also from the corner, to make it 58-57 with 1:24 left.
Bartlett senior reserve Nicole Gobbo made 1 of 2 free throws with 27 seconds left to make it 59-57 but Schueler drove the lane and tied the game with 15 seconds remaining. Bartlett brought the ball up court unpressured and senior point guard Janessa Baker found Palmer on the baseline and as Palmer went to shoot she was fouled. With a look of complete confidence, she found nothing but net on the 2 free throws, putting Bartlett ahead 61-59. Schueler's three-quarter court heave at the buzzer fell well short, sending Bartlett home with the third place trophy.
"We shoot 50-60 free throws in practice every day, Palmer said. "I just took a deep breath and sank 'em like in practice."
The win erased the bad memory of Friday night's semifinal loss to Whitney Young and gave Sarna cause to remember what she's said about this Bartlett team all season.
"We've talked about how good we are when we all come together and you saw that tonight," said Sarna, whose 2005 team took second place here. "Lisa had big rebounds all night and a monster game. Kris hit the big 3 and Haley hit big shots. Janessa did her thing out there and Nicole hit a big free throw under pressure.
"That's the way our team has been all year and it's a great way to finish."