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NORMAL -- Marian Catholic, team of destiny?
"I don't think it was destiny," said Marian's Kauai Bradley. "I just look at it as opportunity."
Opportunity sure knocked for Bradley on Saturday, and she answered.
The lanky, long-armed sophomore's stickback basket with 0.7 seconds left gave Marian a 48-47 win over Rolling Meadows in a riveting Class 4A final at Redbird Arena on the campus of Illinois State University.
If Marian wasn't a team of destiny, there's no disputing it was one of dramatic playoff finishes.
Marian (33-1) needed a half-court buzzer-beater by Ashton Millender to beat Marist in a sectional final.
It wanted a second shot at Rolling Meadows, which handed the Spartans their only loss (61-55), and got it.
"I guess it is luck," Millender said. "Luck, and destiny."
In a furious finish, Marian's Teniya Page missed a tough baseline runner, and Megan Walsh missed a short jumper. The ball landed in Bradley's hands right in front of the basket, and she laid in the game-winner.
"Just had to get that rebound for my team," said Bradley, who had 11 of them.
Rolling Meadows (30-4) took its last lead on a perfectly-executed inbounds play underneath the basket from Allie Kemph to Jenny Vliet for a layup with 24.6 seconds left.
The Mustangs just came one stop short.
It would have been the school's first state championship, and third in any sport since winning titles in 1977 and 1980 in archery, a sport no longer offered by the IHSA.
"It's obviously heartbreaking but my kids left everything they had on the floor," Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky said. "Credit to Marian -- they made one more play than we did."
Marian Catholic's state title is its first in its sixth state appearance. The Spartans took second to Hinsdale Central in Class AA in 2002. Marian also avenged its only loss, 61-55 to Rolling Meadows in December in the Montini Tournament semifinals.
"It's absolutely devastating," said Rolling Meadows junior Alexis Glasgow, sensational in leading all scorers with 24 points. "We came here with one goal, and that was to win a state title.
"You can't go back and think about what could have happened. That last play, it happened."
Just like the teams' first meeting, Marian was fast-starting, using a 7-0 run to end the first half up 27-19.
But just like the first game, when Rolling Meadows rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit, the Mustangs rallied.
Rolling Meadows opened the second half on a 10-0 run, taking a 29-27 lead on Glasgow's free throws with 4:34 left.
Glasgow, recently committed to Northwestern, scored 13 of her team's 19 points in the tide-turning third quarter.
"Alexis is a kid with guts. No stage is too big for her," Kirkorsky said. "She carried us for a while, and then other kids stepped up and made big plays."
Glasgow's 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter on a kick-out from Jackie Kemph gave Rolling Meadows a 38-35 lead. The margin never dipped below 3 in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
Ashley Montanez's turnaround jumper with 1:01 left tied it 45-45, and Millender split 2 free throws for Marian. Millender scored 12 for Marian, Page 13.
"Right off the bat in that second half we closed the gap," Glasgow said. "As soon as we made that run we were confident that we were going to win that game and we were all the way to that last shot. I wasn't going down without a fight."
Vliet, who hit the eventual game-winning 3 to beat Marian in December, scored 12 points for Rolling Meadows.
Marian, though, did a much better job containing Kemph in the rematch. Rolling Meadows' junior guard lit up Marian for 27 points in December, capping an incredible 88-point, three-game stretch.
She was held scoreless on Saturday until a blow-by driving layup with 2:16 left in the third quarter, and finished with 3 points on 1-of-6 shooting with 3 assists.
Kemph will be back, though.
And here's a scary thought for the rest of the state: so will most of the kids on the floor Saturday.
Of the 10 starters, eight are underclassmen -- including Rolling Meadows' all-junior starting lineup, as well as sophomores Page and Bradley and Millender, a junior, for Marian.
Kirkorsky preferred to bask in this year's team and honor his only senior Morgan Keller, rather than speculate on what is to come.
"If anything I just want to celebrate with these kids," Kirkorsky said. "It's more important that we celebrate this season and celebrate Morgan than think about next year."
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