After a great first half Friday night, the Wheaton North players started to think how cool it would be to end a two-decades-plus drought and advance to the championship game of their own tournament.
You couldn't blame the Falcons, not after jumping ahead of Glenbard South 15-3 after one quarter and leading by as many as 22 in the second quarter in the first of two semifinal match-ups at the Bill Neibch Falcon Classic. But the sixth-seeded Raiders put up a mighty fight in the second half before falling 49-43, which means the Falcons are indeed in the finals for the first time since 1991.
"It felt great coming out and getting a 20-point lead and we were all hyped up," Falcons guard Reilly Stewart said. "During halftime everything was great, but their defense definitely got better and their pressure was really good. I was kinda scared and I'm just glad we finished."
No. 2 Wheaton North (11-3) had already beaten the Raiders once this year and looked in total control after back-to-back layups from Mandy Traversa and Brooke Schanowski gave the hosts a 27-7 lead and Traversa added a pair of free throws for a 22-point margin with 3:56 left in the half.
But the Raiders closed to within 31-18 at the half and 42-32 after three quarters and then sliced the Falcons' lead to just 3 at 46-43 in the final minute before coming up short. Nasty man-to-man defense by the Raiders sparked the comeback and limited Wheaton North (11-3) to just 3 field goals in the second half.
"The heart and passion my team plays with … if we could take away that first quarter, we would in a heartbeat," Glenbard South coach Julie Fonda said. "That's what makes my team a dream to coach. They have a refuse to lose attitude that is never going away."
Traversa, who had hit eight 3-pointers the previous day, paced the Falcons with 14 points on Friday, but had just 3 free throws in the second half. In fact, Wheaton North managed just 3 field goals in the second half but pulled the game out with some clutch shooting from the line. The Falcons shot 21-for-30 from the stripe, including 7-for-11 in the fourth quarter to account for all of the team's points over the final eight minutes.
Stewart made 5 of 6 foul shots in the second half including a pair that gave the Falcons a 48-43 lead with 34 seconds remaining. Chrissy Baird finished with 11 points and 9 boards as Wheaton North had three players reach double figures in scoring.
"Being in the championship is an awesome feeling," said Traversa. "Their aggressive man-to-man really got an edge on us. We took their punch and we wobbled but we didn't fall."
Raiders guard Stefi Bazigos knocked down a trio of 3s to lead all scorers with 15 points and Tomei Ball added 13 points and 8 rebounds for a Glenbard South team that will play in Saturday's third-place game.