It wasn't a surprise to Hersey girls basketball coach Mary Fendley that her team successfully fought through some adversity Monday night.
These are some of the same players who helped her fight through the hardest time of her life last year.
Fendley missed the final weeks of last season while fighting breast cancer.
"We are so tough, both physically and emotionally," Fendley said. "I wasn't even here a year ago, and we went through that together and it's like this whole climate (of toughness). It's more being tough emotionally. They are so resilient. And that shows in the way we play. I credit our mental toughness."
Top-seeded Hersey needed plenty of mental toughness in its 52-34 sectional semifinal victory over No. 5 Lake Forest at Libertyville. The Huskies were poised to blow the doors off, up by 20 points at halftime (33-13). But a major third-quarter drought by Hersey and some hot shooting by Lake Forest cut the lead to single digits.
Hersey, which moves to Thursday's sectional championship to face No. 2 Fremd, a 58-40 winner over No. 6 Libertyville in the other semifinal, missed 13 of 14 shots in the third quarter. The Huskies, now 27-3 on the season, scored just 2 points and turned the ball over five times as Lake Forest ended the quarter down 9 points, 35-26.
"They started playing really good defense on us in the third quarter" said Hersey senior guard Kelly Weyhrich, who scored a game-high 19 points on four 3-pointers. "But we never let our heads go down. We just stayed positive.
"We just try to pick each other up and that's what we did. And we always want to win games for (Fendley), especially because of what she went through last year. I feel like going through that last year helped our team get so much closer."
Weyhrich helped Hersey build a first-half cushion that was substantial enough to withstand the team's third-quarter shooting woes.
She had 16 of her 19 points before halftime, including all of her 3-pointers.
"I had not been making my shot lately," Weyhrich said. "But it's nice because I know my whole team still believes in me and so I just had to believe in myself to make some shots and I liked that I got to help out my team today."
Lake Forest, which finishes its season with a 23-10 record, got some big-time help from senior reserve guard Tori Salanty, who came off the bench to score a team-high 12 points on four 3-pointers. Salanty had two 3-pointers during the Scouts' gutsy 13-2 third-quarter run.
"Another one of those 3s and it could have been a different game going into the fourth quarter," Lake Forest coach Kyle Wilhelm said. "To see Tori be able to have the last couple of games she's had for us was great.
"The last couple of games, you could have totally written us off. We were down 9 points to Warren (in the regionals) and then at halftime here, I'm pretty sure everyone in the stands thought this thing was big-time over. But we got a little momentum … and the fact that we don't ever stop fighting is the thing I'm most proud of."
Each team got double-figuring scoring out of one other player besides Weyhrich and Salanty. Claire Gritt had 10 points for Hersey and Grace Tirzmalis had 10 points for Lake Forest.