If Friday night's nonconference girls basketball game was a dress rehearsal for the upcoming state tournament, Hinsdale Central passed with flying colors and Benet hopes it learned a valuable lesson.
The Red Devils finished the regular season with a 61-56 upset of two-time defending state champion Benet, ranked eighth in Class 4A.
"It's, like, amazing," said Red Devils senior point guard Gracie Hartzman. "I couldn't really ask for anything more. I'm doing this with my best friends, and it's really amazing. We all worked as a team. Everyone from the bench gave us points."
"The last week has been a roller coaster," Hinsdale Central coach Tom McKenna added. "We had a great win last week against LT, then we go and really lay an egg against Downers Grove South. I mean, worst game we've played in two years. Then tonight we looked like a good team."
Actually, the Red Devils (20-9) looked like a very good team, a scary thought for next week's regional opponents who must follow Benet into Hinsdale.
The Red Devils took a 29-20 lead into halftime thanks to a closing 8-0 run that included two Hartzman 3-pointers. They maintained that momentum in the third quarter, which finished with Hinsdale Central ahead 44-31.
It's not the first time the Redwings (24-4) have found themselves trailing by double digits this season, but this time they couldn't dig themselves out of the hole to win the game.
"I don't know what it is with these guys that they have to be down a certain amount before they get interested, but we've had several games this year where we've been down 19, 20 points against good teams and we've won those games," Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. "... That's been unfortunately kind of our modus operandi. I felt like we still had a chance to close at the end. We needed to make another bucket here or there, get a steal, and we weren't able to do it."
A Tsimba Malonga steal and layup with 1:05 to play cut the lead to 57-53, and Clara Prasse's long 3-pointer made it a 1-point game with 42.1 seconds to go. But Paige Bareck and Riley Burr combined to go 4 of 4 at the free-throw line in the final seconds, and Benet couldn't score again.
Meanwhile, with the game on the line, the Red Devils showed some composure.
"It was, it was so nerve-wracking," Hartzman said. "I know I had a turnover. It was nerve-wracking, but we've had these games before with good teams and we did it again."
Bareck finished with 16 points, Burr 13 and Elle Schaefer 10. Malonga led Benet, the No. 1 seed at the East Aurora sectional, with 12 points, and Prasse added 10.
"I told our kids this could be a blessing in disguise because it gives you an idea of what it's like next week," Kilbride said. "Someone's crying after every game. And you've got to show up locked and loaded, ready to go, and you've got to play through the tough spots. I think we finally kinda got something going late, obviously, but we struggled. That's going to happen, and you've just got to figure out a way around it. We figured it out too late tonight."