With one watchful eye on his 1-year-old grandson, Stevenson girls basketball coach Tom Dineen spied the No. 1 player on the No. 1 seed: the one and only Jackie Kemph.
"Too much Kemph," Dineen said with a grin, purposely raising his voice so Rolling Meadows' star could hear him as they stood in a hallway outside the locker rooms at Libertyville.
"She's awesome," Dineen continued after Kemph led top-seeded Rolling Meadows to a 58-47 win over his fifth-seeded Patriots in the teams' Class 4A sectional semifinal Monday night. "We didn't have an answer for her. Haley Green (coming off the bench) worked her butt off on her, but we didn't have much help."
Kemph's game bests of 23 points and 11 assists vaulted Rolling Meadows (27-3) into Thursday's championship game, which will be an all-Mid-Suburban League battle. The Mustangs will face No. 2 Fremd, a 55-54 winner over No. 3 Zion-Benton, at 7:30 p.m. at Libertyville.
Stevenson, which started its season with a 77-46 loss to Rolling Meadows, finished 20-9. Lehigh-bound point guard Kari Moffat led the Patriots with 18 points (8-of-10 shooting), while sophomores Taylor Buford (9 rebounds) and Sophia Way, who missed the regional final with concussion symptoms, added 10 points apiece.
"I think they improved a lot," Kemph said of the Patriots. "You could tell that some of their girls had a lot more confidence. I think they did a lot better this time than they did the last time. They're a good team. I mean, that was a great win for us."
Northwestern-commit Alexis Glasgow opened the contest by taking a Kemph pass and knocking down the first of her four 3-pointers en route to 16 points, and Rolling Meadows never trailed. The Mustangs scored the first 7 points and were up 17-2 after Kemph fed 6-foot Morgan Keller (8 points), the team's only senior, for a layup with 2:23 left in the opening quarter.
Kemph's 8 points and 3 assists staked Rolling Meadows to a 17-4 lead after one quarter.
"They lit it up in the first quarter," Stevenson senior post Alex Elzinga said after scoring 6 points in the final game of her four-year varsity career. "At first, we didn't really have a response for it, and then we calmed down, and that's the reason that we came back."
Elzinga scored on an offensive rebound with a minute left before halftime to bring Stevenson within 25-22 and cap an 18-8 run. But Glasgow ended the half the way she started it, by sinking a 3 off a Kemph pass.
"We had a stretch where we didn't defend very well," Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky said. "We weren't in the stance and we didn't keep people in front of us. That's what we talked about at halftime. If you want to get to a sectional championship, it's about getting stops and rebounding."
The Mustangs did a better job of that in the second half. They limited Stevenson to 4-of-10 shooting and forced 7 turnovers in the third quarter, while Kemph scored on three drives, including one after her steal.
Kemph netted 9 points in the third, and when the smooth playmaker made a behind-the-back pass in the lane to Keller, who finished the wide-open layup with five seconds on the clock, Rolling Meadows' lead was 49-33.
"We were just running a play," Kemph said of her dandy dish. "They collapsed, so I found her."
"I thought she did a great job of attacking," Kirkorsky said. "She has so much attention on her. We talked about attacking when it's her time to attack, and then setting up her teammates when it's her time to do that. It was one of her best games of doing that."
Rolling Meadows led by as many as 19 points in the fourth. Moffat scored 9 points, including a 3, to help Stevenson cut slightly into its deficit.
"At points, we just couldn't handle the ball," the Army-bound Elzinga said. "They were just playing great defense. They're a great team. That's why they're the No. 1 seed."