The full stands, crowd noise and court intensity recalled a sectional basketball game -- not a stretch since the girls from Geneva and host Montini faced each other in one last season.
They delivered again in Thursday's semifinals of Montini's eighth Christmas tournament. Unbeaten Montini withstood Margaret Whitley's 27 points on nine 3-pointers to deal the Vikings their first loss, 65-60.
"It was a hard-fought game, a tale of two halves," said Montini coach Jason Nichols, who leads the 15-0 Broncos into the championship at 8:15 p.m. Friday against Benet, a 51-50 winner over Rolling Meadows. "I thought we dominated in the first and I thought they dominated us in the second, but we just had enough of a cushion to kind of persevere."
Geneva (10-1) rallied from a 43-26 halftime deficit to take a 60-59 lead with 58.3 seconds left to play on the 5-foot-8 Whitley's final 3 of the game, the Vikings' first lead since 8-6 midway in the first quarter.
Twelve seconds later Montini sophomore Sam Mitchell drained her own 3 from the right wing to regain a 62-60 lead.
"It was insane," said Mitchell, whose 9 points joined seven Broncos with at least 6 points, led by forward Aaliyah Patty with 13 and guard Kaylee Bambule with 12.
"I knew since I didn't get that (defensive) switch on Margaret, I was like, oh my gosh, I have to do something, I have to get back on offense, I have to do something," Mitchell said. "I got the ball, I'm like, I'm open, I'm shooting it. And I did, and I felt it. It was amazing."
Geneva coach Sarah Meadows called time out. Once back on the court Montini's Claudia Kunzer dove for a loose ball, was fouled and made a free throw for a 63-60 Broncos lead with 11.9 seconds left.
"We needed to make a big play right there," Kunzer said. "We needed to get the ball one way or another. So I saw that ball and I just went after it."
Meadows again took time, but the Vikings couldn't finish, and Bambule made two free throws for the final margin.
Whitley, supported by guard Stephanie Hart's 14 points and 4 steals, hit 3 of her 3-pointers in the second quarter, 4 in the fourth quarter and 1 apiece in the first and third.
"I just told our kids she hit her 10th while we were in the locker room right now," Nichols said, jokingly.
"I play AAU summer basketball with all the girls on the (Montini) team, Illinois Lady Lightning, and so I know every single one of them, which made it really special playing them because I love them really and dearly," Whitley said.
Meadows doesn't remotely like losing but found a silver lining with the comeback against the state power.
"We're down 17 and at halftime we just talked about, these are the games that we want to be in, these are the games that you work your butts off (for) in the summer and the fall," Meadows said. "I just felt like we were letting them punch us in the face and we were OK with that. We really just talked the whole halftime, we didn't draw anything up, and the kids responded and came out and played a nice second half."