Angela Bruno was determined to get her atonement.
Twice Willowbrook's senior point guard turned over the basketball in the final minute, allowing Hinsdale Central to take away the lead, but Bruno's hustle steal led to Melissa Rader's basket with 4.1 seconds left, the No. 13 Warriors winning 57-56 on Wednesday in Villa Park in a wild finish.
Hinsdale Central's Gabrielle Rush had tied it 55-55 with two free throws, then intercepted a crosscourt Bruno pass and turned it into a free throw for the 56-55 lead with 26 seconds left. Rush wrested the ball away on Willowbrook's next possession, but with Rush seemingly headed for a breakaway Bruno chased her down from behind like a linebacker chasing down a running back going in for a touchdown.
Bruno stole it, passed ahead to Lauren Carroll for a layup attempt, and Rader laid in Carroll's miss.
"I saw (Rush) going ahead, and I saw the ball," Bruno said. "I was not going to let it end that way."
Hinsdale Central had one last shot with 2.1 ticks left in its frontcourt, but a throwback pass from Lily Sarros never made it to Rush underneath the basket as time expired. Red Devils coach Tom McKenna pleaded for a foul, but the sage veteran also knew how his team lost the game.
"I always tell them, any team that I've ever coached, that the shot that beats you in the end is never the first shot," McKenna said. "It's always the putback. That's what happened there."
Willowbrook coach Terry Harrell has preached Bruno's value all year. It's the kind that doesn't always show up on the stat sheet.
"She just makes plays," Harrell said. "It's not like she scores the most points. She just makes plays. She played great defense on Rush. Trust me, Rush was frustrated."
Bruno scored 9 points with 3 assists, but until the final minute her biggest contribution was her defense on Rush. The Red Devils' sophomore guard, averaging 20.8 points on the year, scored 19 but did it on 7-of-24 shooting.
"She didn't go off like she usually does," Bruno said. "We were not helping off of her, or she would have hit a lot more."
Willowbrook (21-5) led throughout after Hinsdale Central's early 4-0 lead but never could quite put away the Red Devils. The Warriors' lead grew as wide as 46-35 midway through the third quarter, but Hinsdale Central (16-9) answered with an 11-2 run. Sarros had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Red Devils.
Anita Sterling had 15 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists and Colleen Krawczykowski 11 points for Willowbrook, younger sister Molly Krawczykowski not playing in the second half after injuring an elbow in a scrum. The Warriors next set their sights on winning a regional, which would be the program's first since 1996.
"We want to win a regional," Bruno said. "We've been planning for it, we've been waiting for it all year. We want to get to a sectional and once we're there play our hardest."
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