A school record for wins, a first conference title and a first regional championship -- there certainly were plenty of firsts this year for Aurora Christian's girls basketball program.
The first sectional win? That will have to wait, but with 14 of 15 players returning next year, it might not have to wait for long.
Aurora Christian nearly made more history Monday against St. Bede at the Class 2A Somonauk sectional, erasing a 9-point halftime deficit with one of its typical second-half surges. The Eagles came all the way back to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter.
In the end St. Bede's 6-foot-3 post Morgan Dean proved too much to handle. Dean scored 15 straight points for her team spanning the late second quarter through nearly the entire fourth, helping the Lady Bruins (18-15) hold on for a 47-41 victory.
Dean finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds. No other St. Bede player scored in the second half until 1:17 remained in the game as Dean poured in 17 of St. Bede's 19 second-half points to carry her team to Thursday's sectional championship game against Byron.
"That girl was a load," Eagles coach Jerry Tokars said. "That's the best I've seen her play. She didn't play like that on film. I give her credit, she's a senior and she came to play tonight."
Alex Hultine, who led the Eagles with 14 points, put Aurora Christian ahead 40-39 with 4:21 left in the game with a 3-point basket, the Eagles' first lead since 2-0 on another Hultine jumper.
It turned out to be short-lived as Dean scored in the post on St. Bede's next possession. Dean followed with a steal and was fouled. She made both free throws -- she finished 9 for 10 at the line -- for a 43-40 lead.
Natasha Brown's free throw brought the Eagles within 43-41 with 2:05 remaining but the Lady Bruins were able to run 50 seconds off the clock and then Lydia Stariha made two free throws for a 45-41 lead.
Eagles leading scorer Alyssa Andersen, who was held to 6 points (11 below her average), saw her 3-point attempt rim out. Dean then capped her big game with an offensive rebound and putback bucket on a missed free throw.
"She's a ton inside," St. Bede coach Tom McGunnigal said of Dean who entered averaging about 16 points a game. "She's our heart and soul offensively."
St. Bede led 13-7 after the first quarter and 28-19 at halftime. Freshman Gabby Galbato sparked the Eagles' 14-5 third quarter with 4 points and 5 rebounds as they pulled into a 33-33 tie going to the fourth quarter on a baseline jumper from another freshman Ashley Hochsprung.
"We knew they were a second-half team," McGunnigal said. "I've been watching them all year. We knew no lead was safe."
Brown, a sophomore, grabbed 14 rebounds while yet another freshman, Kirsten Madsen, added 8 points as Aurora Christian (19-9) will enter the 2013-14 season with everyone but Hultine back.
"This was an awesome season, a record-breaking season, what more can you say about it?" Tokars said. "Things are looking up. This program is taking off, and it's because of their hard work.
"They all feel bad which is good because they all want more. We graduate one girl (Hultine), she's a heck of a girl. She's an awesome kid on and off the court. She's leaving a good legacy for the younger players. I think they'll grab the baton."
Hultine does too.
"It was a really special year," Hultine said. "We really set a lot of records. All season I said from the beginning we were going to make history this year and we did. It was really enjoyable for me and I felt I left the girls with a good run to continue and I know they are going to go even further because they are working hard and they love the game."