For someone who says she isn't a natural free throw shooter, Wheaton Warrenville South sophomore Mackenzie Stebbins had a funny way of showing it in the closing seconds of the Class 4A St. Charles East regional Thursday night.
With the No. 5 seeded Tigers clinging to a 2-point lead over the host and fourth-seeded Saints, Stebbins calmly sank 2 free throws -- the start of a stretch of 7 straight WW South made in the final 1:10 to seal a 51-45 victory.
Or maybe not so calmly.
"I was definitely very scared," Stebbins said. "I've never been in that position before. It was fun but very scary. Their student section was very loud but I just blocked them out."
Stebbins finished 5-of-5 at the line while Sarah Struebing also sank 2 free throws with a 3-point lead.
The victory sends WW South (21-8) into Monday's Class 4A Glenbard West sectional semifinal against Friday's winner of No. 1 Geneva and No. 9 York.
"We've been talking about it all season," Stebbins said. "It was an unreal moment for us."
After losing in last year's regional final to Bartlett, a young Tigers team with three sophomore starters ended the Saints season, and the 12-year run of retiring coach Lori Drumtra.
WW South overcame a 7-point second half deficit to do it, outscoring the Saints 17-7 in the fourth quarter. They took the lead for good 39-38 on Jayla Johnson's basket inside with 5:20 remaining, while the Saints turned the ball over on their first three possessions in the fourth quarter.
"Once we got that lead it was a matter of making stops," Tigers coach Rob Kroehnke said. "We weren't perfect but we did what we had to do. St. Charles East, they just battle the whole time. The first half, I thought they were going to make 30 3s. We made one little adjustment to close out better. I think that was the key."
Nicole Jordan, Ashley DiOrio and Rose Bundy all hit 3s in the first quarter for the Saints, and Sam Munroe started the second with another.
At that point the Saints led 20-15, but the game turned moments later when leading scorer Sara Rosenfeldt injured her left ankle while chasing a loose ball into the Tigers bench. She had to be helped off the court and missed a little over 4 minutes.
While Rosenfeldt was out, that 5-point lead turned into a 1-point deficit. She came back late in the second quarter and gutted out the rest of the game, leading the Saints with 13 points while playing at clearly less than 100 percent.
St. Charles East (23-6) took its biggest lead 33-26 on back-to-back 3s from Bundy and Munroe midway through the third quarter. The Tigers rallied behind Johnson (14 points, 10 rebounds), Stebbins (10 points), Maria Dohse (10 points) and Sarah Struebing (8 points).
"When you dissect the game, there's two minutes in the second quarter and two minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter," Drumtra said. "That's what's going to haunt me, those four minutes out of the 32."
DiOrio helped cover for Rosenfeldt, guarding Johnson and finishing with 8 points and 12 rebounds. Bundy came off the bench with 10 points, and Munroe finished with 6 points and 7 assists.
"I'll reflect on the big picture later," Drumtra said. "It's disappointing because it was on our home court.
"I told the girls keep your head up, you fought hard. It's been a great season. We were hoping to get a little further than this, but this team was special to me not just because it was my last year but how well they got along. And the leadership we had was amazing. It was a fun group to be around every day and a great group to end with."