Geneva junior Janie McCloughan had spent hours and hours preparing for this very moment, but that's not to say the pressure of the moment would be easy to overcome.
With less than one second left to play in a tied contest with top-seeded Wheaton Warrenville South (28-4) on Tuesday, McCloughan followed up a miss by teammate Grace Loberg with a huge offensive rebound and was fouled while attempting a shot at the buzzer.
So she confidently stepped to the free-throw line and missed her first shot. But when McCloughan swished the second one, and the Tigers couldn't follow with a winning shot in the final 0.8 seconds, the Vikings had a thrilling 55-54 defeat over the very same Wheaton Warrenville South program that had ended their season in the sectional semifinals the past two years.
"I've been practicing a lot in the gym. I mean almost every day I'll stay after practice and work on my free throws," said McCloughan, who made 3 of 4 foul shots in a frantic fourth quarter that opened with the Tigers on top 42-40. "So this is exactly the moment I have been waiting for. The first one was just pure nerves. I am so prepared for that kind of stuff. I totally knew I could do it."
With the way the Vikings (25-5) played in the first half of the Addison Trail sectional semifinal, you might not have expected the game to go down to the wire. With Morgan Seberger making four of five 3-point attempts and Sidney Santos adding a pair of 3s, Geneva led 32-22 at the half.
But the DuPage Valley Conference champs and star Meghan Waldron had plenty of fight left in them and used a 20-8 third-quarter charge -- capped off by a short jumper by Melinda Franke -- to move ahead. Franke's basket off a feed from Erin Madigan gave the Tigers their first lead of the night as they appeared to put the sluggish first half behind them.
But to Geneva's credit, Loberg, a 6-foot-2 freshman center, stayed tough down the stretch and reserve Michaela Loebel added five big points in the final quarter with a pair of jumpers including yet another 3, as Geneva didn't crumble this time under the pressure of the talented Tigers, who had tied the score at 54-54 after Waldron fed Maggie Dansdill for a jumper in the corner with 17seconds left to play.
"I don't even know how to describe it right now," said Seberger, who finished with 15 points. "When you can get a great team beating a great team it's just wonderful."
Waldron, who will play at DePaul after becoming the all-time leading scorer at Wheaton Warrenville South, finished the night with 19 points, 10 rebounds and several nifty assists. She tipped her hat to Loberg's 20-point effort but also was proud of the way her team fought back in the second half.
"Their freshman really stumped us," she said of Loberg, who had 7 field goals and 6 free throws. "I think she was hard to guard and she got us in foul trouble. Things just went their way. But it just goes to show what this team was about all season by our comeback. That's what we do (fight hard)."
Loberg also made an unbelievable shot with 1:30 left. Waldron reached in and almost had a jump ball, but Loberg pulled the ball back away and flung it towards the basket in the same motion...and the ball hit the rim and gently rolled around and fell in for a 54-51 lead.
"Honestly, I don't even know what that was," smiled Seberger said. "Hey it went in, two points."
The loss was a tough one to swallow for Wheaton Warrenville South coach Rob Kroehnke, whose team was hoping to get at least as far as the supersectional like it did year ago.
"You saw the second half why this is a special team. What they did in the second half showed who they are," he said. "I could care less about records and trophies. When you get a team that plays like that the entire year the way they did … I'm the luckiest coach in the state to get to coach that group right there."
For the Tigers, Waldron, Zappia and Dansdill each reached double figures, but the Vikings totaled 24 points on 3s while WW South made just one shot from beyond the arc on Tuesday night.