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With the Wheaton North girls basketball team leading by one point and the final seconds ticking, junior Chrissy Baird suspected that speedy Schaumburg guard Amanda Kelly would take her team's final shot.
As Kelly drove the lane, the 6-foot-1 Baird blocked the shot, quickly resulting in an apparent jump ball with 6.3 seconds left.
Or was it a block? Baird only knew she heard a whistle.
"I knew I had gotten it clean, and I was afraid that it was questionable," Baird said. "I just looked at the ref and as soon as I saw the jump-ball signal, I looked at the scorer's table and I saw the possession arrow was pointing towards us.
"It was like a big sigh of relief. I was like, 'Yes.' "
That's how close the Falcons' 57-54 victory was over Schaumburg in an exciting Class 4A Bartlett sectional semifinal.
Baird and senior Mandy Traversa each had 15 points for the Falcons (23-7). Kelly had 17 for the Saxons (16-14).
The Falcons will play for the sectional title Thursday against rival Wheaton Warrenville South (28-3), a 62-53 winner over Geneva in Tuesday's earlier semifinal. WW South beat the Falcons in their two regular-season games by 15 and 23 points.
"It's the best feeling in the whole world," Baird said. "It's beyond my wildest dreams. This team has come so far from where we were last year. We're best friends, and I think that contributes to our success because we win for each other."
It's the first time Wheaton North has reached a sectional final since the Class AA quarterfinal team of 1986, when coach Dave Eaton was 6 years old.
"Seeing a team three times in a year is never a good thing. I know their kids will be ready. Both teams will be ready to go," Eaton said.
"We sort of figured they were going to go with Kelly (at the end). We just told them to try and stop penetration, keep them out of the middle and make their shot a contested shot. I would have liked it a little more contested, but we got the end result with Chrissy boxing out and getting that jump ball."
After the jump ball Wheaton North called a timeout and Traversa, a former softball player, clinched the victory. Her baseball-style inbounds pass three-quarters down the court found an open Reilly Stewart for a layup. Kelly's three-quarters court shot just before the buzzer fell short.
"I was a pitcher so I guess that helped a lot," Traversa said. "(Eaton) asked if I wanted to run the play and I said, 'Absolutely.' Reilly finished perfectly and it worked, just as we had planned."
With 1:27 to go, Traversa hit a driving basket to put the Falcons ahead 53-51. Kelly answered with a three-point play for a 54-53 Schaumburg lead.
Baird was then fouled, putting the Falcons in the double bonus with 38.6 seconds to play. She hit both free throws, putting the Falcons back in front by a point. Schaumburg used its final timeout with 31.4 seconds left to set up its final play.
"Like I told the girls, sometimes calls don't go your way and you have to make the most of your opportunities and capitalize off the opportunities you do have," Schaumburg coach Ashley Berggren said. "(Kelly) saw an opening sooner, and I trust what she does. We were hoping to get a foul, but, unfortunately, that just wasn't the case."
Baird scored six points in the fourth quarter with a putback and by going 4 for 4 from the free-throw line. The Falcons were 7 of 8 from the line in the fourth quarter, 12 of 13 in the second half and 18 of 21 overall. Schaumburg was 10 of 17.
"On the free-throw line I was nervous and everyone was screaming. Regardless of who was screaming, I just blocked them out and pretended they were screaming, supporting me," Baird said.
Wheaton North's Kelly Thornton and Stewart each had 9 points. Thornton had 8 points and two 3s in the second quarter as the Falcons rallied from an 18-8 deficit. Sophomore Jodi Blackwell, Schaumburg's only non-senior, had 12 points with two 3s in the fourth quarter, and senior Riley Williams added 8.
After a slow start Wheaton North finished the second quarter with a 15-3 run to take a 26-23 halftime lead. The Saxons didn't lead again until the fourth quarter at 45-44 on Kelly's free throw with 5:22 left after hitting 3s on their previous three possessions.
The Saxons' tenacity was indicative of what carried them this far as the sectional's No. 10 seed.
"We talk about the 90-10 rule, that it's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. You've got to have that mental toughness to persevere in the mental ups and downs of the game and they did that tonight," Berggren said.
"We've really come together as a team. They really put trust in one another and themselves and they realized they can't let each other down."