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Geneva didn't start the Class 4A third-place game Saturday night at Redbird Arena in Normal like it wanted to -- but the Vikings sure finished that way.
And that goes for their season, too.
Geneva fell behind by 12 points in the opening quarter, rallied but never could catch Marian Catholic in a 45-34 loss.
The Vikings (26-7) finished fourth in the state for the second time in six years.
Seven weeks ago the only people who believed that possible were probably the Geneva players and coaching staff. But that's just what the Vikings did by rattling off 14 straight wins after a 12-5 start.
"It's great," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said of taking fourth. "I'm so proud of the kids and the way we played the second half. That was Geneva basketball -- heart and courage. We played our hearts out and that's what Geneva basketball is."
Marian Catholic (28-5), last year's state champion, never trailed in rebounding from a 60-20 semifinal loss Friday night to Whitney Young.
Geneva couldn't have started much worse. The Vikings turned the ball over on their first four possessions.Marian Catholic also started a little slow, getting just a 3-pointer from DePaul-bound Ashton Millender during that stretch.
Morgan Seberger missed a 3-pointer on Geneva's fifth possession -- its first shot of the game, and Janie McCloughan couldn't get the follow to go. The Vikings finally got on the scoreboard with 3:34 left in the quarter on a high-low pass from Sidney Santos to Grace Loberg inside.
Geneva only scored 2 more points in the quarter on Abby Novak's free throws while Millender made two more 3s for the Spartans who built a 16-4 lead after one quarter.
Novak opened the second quarter with drive for a basket. The Vikings only made one more field goal in the quarter, a layup from Seberger after a steal and assist from Michaela Loebel.
By halftime Geneva had hit just 3 of its 15 field goal attempts and also missed half of its 8 free throws. The Spartans turned Geneva's 13 turnovers into 13 points and led 23-10 at halftime.
The Vikings got back into the game in the third quarter by getting to the free-throw line. Santos, McCloughan, Novak and Seberger all split free throws for the first 4 points of the second half to cut Marian Catholic's lead to single digits at 23-14.
Loberg got to the line next and made both, and Loebel followed by splitting free throws. At that point Geneva had outscored Marian 7-0 through four minutes of the third quarter on 7-of-12 free-throw shooting.
While Geneva got the Spartans into foul trouble on one end, they shut Marian Catholic down almost completely on the other. Santos, who fouled out Friday and picked up her third foul late in the second quarter Saturday, drew a key charge early in the third quarter to be able to stay on the court and help the comeback.
"Coach talked to us and said we made it this far and we can win this game," Novak said of the halftime talk. "We kept our heads up and played Geneva basketball in the second half."
Loebel's left-handed lay-in and two more free throws from Novak finished an 11-3 third quarter for Geneva to bring the Vikings within 26-21 going to the fourth.
Novak continued her strong game with two free throws to make it a 26-23 game -- which turned out to be as close as the Vikings would come.
Geneva's cold shooting returned -- the Vikings only made two field goals in the final quarter until senior Bella Medina scored the game's final basket in the closing seconds.
Geneva finished shooting just 7 of 33 from the field (21.2 percent) including misses on all 7 of its 3-point tries. The Vikings stayed in the game only by getting to the line 31 times, making 20.
"I just kept trying to play my heart out," Seberger said. "It does stink we couldn't get a ‘W' here but we put all of our effort on the court and it's incredible to walk away with fourth place."
Novak led the way, hitting 9 of her 10 free throws to score 13 points with 6 rebounds.Loberg added 6 points and 12 rebounds.
Millender paced all scorers with 16 points for Marian.
"It's a great feeling. The credit goes to the girls and how hard they worked since day one. It's a great credit to them to get back down here again," said Marian coach Dan Murray, who took over a team that beat Rolling Meadows at the buzzer to win last year's Class 4A state title.
"Without question it was a daunting task and expectations were high. But the girls made my job easier. They bought in from day one and never questioned anything."
The last time Geneva reached state in 2009, three of the Viking starters -- Kat Yelle, Lauren Wicinski and Kelsey Augustine -- were either sophomores or juniors and returned to form the nucleus of two more sectional championship teams.
This year's Geneva team has the exact same thing going for them with Loberg, Novak and McCloughan all back next year looking to extend Geneva's regional championship streak to seven years with bigger goals in their grasp, like a fifth sectional title in that same span or a return trip to Redbird Arena.
"We had a lot of young kids, siblings, here this weekend that are going to be future Vikings and it's great for them, and the underclass players on our team, to experience this," Meadows said. "We got Loebel back, Morgan put together a great couple weeks and Loberg's composure for a freshman is unbelievable."
The future is bright, but that doesn't mean the Vikings aren't going to seriously miss seniors like Santos, Seberger and Loebel who were able to write a fairy-tale ending with their late-season winning streak and magical postseason run.
"It's unbelievable," Seberger said. "I love playing with this team. I chose to stay here instead of going to Montini and I'm so blessed to be sitting here with my coach and my teammates right now."
"We all believed in each other and fought hard the last couple weeks," Santos said. "I can't imagine being here with any other group of girls."
John Radtke contributed to this report.