On a night when the shots just wouldn't fall, the St. Francis girls basketball team could have thrown in the towel early, especially while Sycamore sharpshooter Kate Majerus was putting on a shooting clinic early.
But this year's Spartans, who fought hard to turn around their season and win 17 games heading into Friday's Class 3A regional title game at Wheaton Academy, had too much heart to go down without a fight.
St. Francis ended its season with a 55-48 defeat.
Despite missing 46 of 63 shots on the night, St. Francis actually battled back to take a 43-42 lead after a second-chance basket by Mia Mazza with 3:52 left to play. This improbable lead came after Majerus knocked down five 3-pointers in the first half, including a 4-for-4 effort from beyond the arc in the first quarter.
But as soon as Mazza had given the Spartans the lead late, Majerus countered with her sixth 3 of the night, and second-seeded Sycamore finished off the game from there, outscoring third-seeded St. Francis 13-5 down the stretch to claim the game and regional crown.
"I think we had a good battle to get ourselves back in the game. We all fought for it," said Mazza, who finished her senior season with 8 points and 7 rebounds. "I think in the end they just wanted it more. We had a little lack of mental focus at times and we weren't hitting our shots. In the end they were the better team tonight."
Sycamore (20-9), which had lost to St. Francis in a regional final last year, has won three regionals in four years, and Friday's triumph gives the program four straight 20-win seasons.
"We've been in a lot of tight games this year and we found a way to win a lot of them," said Sycamore coach Adam Wickness. "After every single one of them I said, 'Hey, this is going to prepare us for February. Trust the process, this is going to prepare us for February."
The process was aided plenty by Majerus, who finished with a game-high 27 points, including 7 free throws in the fourth quarter. But she did receive lots of help from her teammates, including 13 points and 9 rebounds from freshman Kylie Feuerbach and 7 points and 13 boards from Juliet Mathey.
For St. Francis (17-12), Antwainette Walker led the way with 14 points and 8 rebounds, while fellow junior Shelby Winkleman added 13 points.
"Toward the end of this season I felt like it all came together," said Walker, who will return next year after starting these past three seasons. "We just couldn't come up with a 'W' this time. We can do it. We just had a mishap tonight."
Spartans coach Melissa Taylor could only tip her hat to a Sycamore squad that started fast with 20 points in the first quarter and then finished strong.
"We battled, and we fought, but Sycamore deserves that win," Taylor said. "I think they did a great job countering all of our strengths and weaknesses. They played a well-rounded game and we didn't bring it tonight."