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No one who follows girls basketball in Illinois would dispute Huntley's potential to accomplish big things in the future.
But the question for the Red Raiders going into Monday night's Class 4A Dundee-Crown supersectional was how a team with only one senior starter would handle the big challenge it faced in Wheaton Warrenville South.
They answered it by never letting go of the lead they took early in the second quarter. By exhibiting patience and discipline for the right shots and by showing the grit and determination to handle every flurry thrown at them by Wheaton South junior standout Meghan Waldron.
And the Red Raiders (26-6) celebrated the biggest step in their historic ride with a huge contingent of fans who made the trip to nearby Carpentersville and witnessed a 47-43 victory which ended a 15-game winning streak for the Tigers (29-4).
"It's very exciting and it feels unbelievable," said Huntley 6-foot-2 freshman Ali Andrews after she had 12 points and 11 rebounds and held Notre Dame-bound post Diamond Thompson to 4 points on 1-for-4 shooting.
"Going out we felt like we were the underdogs," said senior Haley Ream, who had 6 points, 6 assists and 8 rebounds and chased around the DePaul-bound Waldron all night. "Everyone was talking about their two Division I players but to us, we knew what we had to do and we went out and did it."
Ream held Waldron (23 points) scoreless in the final 5:58, junior Sam Andrews had a team-high 17 points and hit four 3-pointers, junior Bethany Zornow had 11 points and freshman point guard Kayla Barreto helped keep the Red Raiders' turnover total stuck at 13 for the final 15:45. A program that had never won a sectional title is now headed to Normal and Redbird Arena for Friday's 6:30 p.m. state semifinal against Rolling Meadows (28-3), which beat Evanston 54-31 in the Niles West supersectional.
"We've worked so hard to get here and it was really a team effort," Sam Andrews said.
"We knew we had to push through our struggles and we pulled through really well as a team," Zornow said after her baseline drive and 3-point play put Huntley ahead to stay at 10-8.
"The kids did a fantastic job tonight," said Huntley coach Steve Raethz. "It's been this way all postseason long. We bend but we don't break."
Huntley could never break away to a lead bigger than 34-26 when Ream hit a 3 on a kick out from Ali Andrews with 51 seconds left in the third. But it also made sure there was never a possession where WW South and the dangerous Waldron (10-for-19 shooting, 11 rebounds) had an opportunity to regain the lead in the second half.
"I told the girls we were right where we want to be," WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said of trailing just 17-14 at halftime. "But Huntley is the type of team like Benet or Naperville Central, if you give them the lead, they control the tempo. When they spread the floor it's very tough."
Waldron's short jumper got WW South within 34-32 at 7:34 but Ali Andrews hit 2 free throws and Sam Andrews scored off a miss. A chance to cut the Huntley lead to a point at 1:10 was lost on a pair of missed free throws.
Ali Andrews, Zornow and Barreto combined to hit 4-for-6 free throws to extend the lead to 46-40 with 22.6 seconds left. But freshman Erin Madigan, who made her first appearance in the game with 1:10 left, gave WW South a glimmer of hope when she cut the deficit in half with a 25-foot rainbow with 14 seconds to play.
But Sam Andrews hit the second of 2 free throws three seconds later and Huntley dug in to preserve the biggest win in school history.
"Our defense and our team morale really kept us together," Zornow said after WW South shot just 32 percent from the field (16-for-50) and 2-for-14 on 3s.
"It feels so great," Ream said. "My senior year, to be the first team in history to go to state, we worked so hard to get here.
"At the beginning of the season I didn't think it would come to this. But now it has ... and it's an amazing feeling."