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The stage was seemingly set for another one of those classic high-scoring games between Rolling Meadows and Fremd, the state’s No. 3 and No. 7-ranked girls basketball teams, respectively, in Class 4A.
But for these state powers, the power was weighted more toward the defensive side in the 41st annual Mid-Suburban League championship game in Palatine.
The 20-20 halftime scored was more like a first-quarter score between two teams which were meeting for a third straight league crown.
For the first time in three years, when the final buzzer sounded in regulation the score was not tied.
This time, Fremd was able to convert 12 of 14 free throws in the final quarter and pulled away to a 49-42 triumph.
The Vikings (24-3) won their 15th MSL crown in 17 appearances and third in five appearances under coach Dave Yates.
“We’re a young team, so this is great for our confidence,” said Fremd junior standout Haley Gorecki, who finished with a game-high 21 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists. “Rolling Meadows is one of the top teams in the state so we realize we’re a great team, too.”
It was a great finish for the Vikings, who won in OT last year and lost in OT in 2012.
Trailing 29-27 after a layup by 6-foot-1 senior Ashley Montanez (8 points), Fremd answered with back-to-back layups by 6-2 sophomore Bryana Hopkins.
The second one came off a nifty no-look pass in the lane from Gorecki and it gave Fremd a 31-29 lead with 2:10 left in the third quarter.
Gorecki’s layup with 45 second left gave the hosts a 33-29 advantage going into the final eight minutes.
A 3-pointer by Meadows senior Sami Kay tied the game 34-34 with 6:22 but Fremd nudged ahead for good when Gorecki made 1 of 2 free throws.
Hopkins’ soft floater from 10 feet made it 37-34 before senior Erica Simios came up with a strong rebound and layup to make it 39-34. Meadows would get no closer.
“That Simios putback was huge,” Yates said. “I thought our kids did an excellent job rebounding. Hopkins and Simios tore it up. All our kids did a nice job consistently holding them to one shot.”
“We were really focused on defense,” Simios said “We knew we had to work hard to box out because they have tall girls.”
Hopkins pulled down 9 rebounds with her 9 points while freshman Grace Tworek had 6 rebounds and two big baskets in the middle quarters.
“We really wanted to play strong defense because that leads to our offense,” Hopkins said. “We were playing a great state-ranked team so it’s great to get this win.”
Gorecki was 6-of-6 at the free throw line in the final 1:41, including the two that gave Fremd a 41-34 lead.
Sophomore Brianna Lewis (5 points, 4 rebounds) and senior Hannah LaBarge (7 points, including a 3-pointer) each added a pair of free throws for the winners in the final 1:10.
“I could not be prouder of our kids and how they handled the situation,” Yates said. “We’ve grown up a ton as a team. We executed down the stretch and hit our free throws.
“I think that showed how far we’ve come and hopefully the best is yet to come.”
Meadows came away with only its fourth loss (all to state-ranked teams) in 27 games
“I just didn’t think we played well as a whole,” said Mustangs coach Ryan Kirkorsky. “There were a lot of 50-50 balls and rebounds that we had a chance at, but I felt there were some that they got to quicker than us.”
The Mustangs received 14 points from senior Jackie Kemph (10-of-12 free throws) and 13 from classmate Jenny Vliet, whose 3-pointer tied the game at 20 just seconds before half.
“A lot of it (the low score) kind of figures into the fact that each team knows each other so well,” Kirkorsky said “It turned into more of a possession game and we’re more used to a faster game. They were able to make more plays than us.”
The two teams are the No. 1 (Meadows) and No. 2 (Fremd) seeds in the Barrington sectional.
“Give credit to Fremd,” Kirkorsky said. “They played great and deserved to win the championship.”
“It awesome to win my junior year,” said Gorecki, who made 11-of-12 free throws while playing in her third straight title game. “Hopefully, we can play in another one next year. It’s cool to have this as a high school player.”
“It was great,” added Simios, who played in her final one. “We really needed to get the defensive stops and go for every rebound. We really played our hearts out.”
Prior to the game, public address announcer Jim Weaver informed the crowd of Conant girls basketball coach Dan Travers’ retirement after 25 years in District 211.
Weaver introduced Traver’s colleagues Tom McCormack (Conant boys coach) and Matt Walsh (Schaumburg boys coach), who made the presentation of a plaque.
The MSL coaches were also gathered around Travers to give their congratulations.