Carmel Catholic senior Leah Lach explained how her team does so well at the free throw line, especially in the fourth quarter.
"We shoot 100 free throws in practice,'' Lach said. "We are trying to make 100 percent. And if we don't hit at least 80 percent, we are running."
Lach had no points heading to the fourth quarter of Thursday's sectional final game at Ridgewood High School. And then she drilled 6 straight free throws.
Her effort helped Carmel stay firmly on the playoff track, as the Corsairs earned their first sectional championship in the program's history.
Carmel led from start to finish and beat top seed Vernon Hills 47-35, ending the storied high school careers of standout Sydney Smith and Lauren Webb.
Carmel (24-8), which ended Vernon Hills' 14-game winning streak, will next play Burlington Central in Monday's 6 p.m. Hoffman Estates supersectional.
Carmel's Kathleen Felicelli (17 points) hit the game's first shot, and it came from 3-point range. Teammate Nicole Bitter joined in the 3-point parade and Carmel was off and running.
Felicelli hit both of her 3-pointers in the first half.
"Kathleen was unconscious in that first half,'' said Carmel coach Kelly Perz.
Felicelli noted her team was ready for this contest.
"We were screaming in the locker room,'' Felicelli said. "We were so motivated. There was no pressure on us. We have everyone's back."
The Carmel lead was 10-4, seemingly at the end of the first quarter. However, a foul was called as Webb attempted to fire a long pass towards the basket. She calmly sank three straight free throws to put her club back in the game.
Obviously the Vernon Hills program will have a tough time saying so long to the gifted Webb and Smith.
"What great kids,'' said Vernon Hills coach Paul Brettner. "They both have meant a lot to this program."
Webb had 9 of her team's 14 points at halftime. Vernon Hills trailed at the break, 23-14. If there was a surprise hero of the second quarter it was senior Alex Svoboda. She scored all of her 8 points in the second quarter.
"I've been playing forever and love basketball,'' Svoboda said. "I was taking advantage of what they were giving me."
The Carmel lead held out through the third quarter. Felicelli scored her team's first 6 points of the quarter. Cassidy Kloss' rebound bucket gave the Corsairs a 31-23 lead late in the quarter. The game, however, was far from over, even with a fourth foul being called on Webb.
Kasey Firnbach's 3-pointer opened her team's fourth quarter scoring. Smith's 3-point play cut the Carmel lead to just 32-31. That also was the last field goal of the season for the Cougars.
Lach helped hold Smith to a season-low 6 points.
Vernon Hills (25-6) resorted to fouling the Corsairs, but it didn't help. At one point in the final quarter, Carmel made 10 straight free throws.
"They are a good team,'' Brettner said. "They play very well together. It's tough to go out here. However, Carmel defended us really well and we didn't play that well."
The Vernon Hills team gave each other hugs and handled defeat graciously.
"It was amazing experience,'' Webb said. "I couldn't have asked for a better high school experience."