It may not rank up there with New England's Super Bowl comeback, but on its own level the comeback St. Edward's girls basketball team made Monday night will not soon be forgotten.
Down to Illiana Christian 29-15 at halftime, the Green Wave roared back and eventually secured a thrilling 49-46 win in the Class 2A Concordia University supersectional in River Forest.
"I've been dreaming of this since fourth grade," said Wave senior Katie Castoro, who made 2 free throws with 12 seconds left to play that sealed the win. "It's surreal. Basketball has been a huge part of my life. It's my senior year and I want to make the most of it."
Castoro and her teammates will get to do just that this weekend when St. Edward (27-5) heads to Redbird Arena in Normal to take on Bloomington Central Catholic in the 7:15 p.m. state semifinal on Friday. BCC defeated Teutopolis 70-47 in the Parkland College super Monday.
St. Edward's woes in the first half were twofold. The Wave made just 6 of 30 field goal attempts, and they didn't have Castoro on the floor the entire second quarter after she picked up her third foul with 47 seconds left in the first.
"We just didn't have our normal offensive flow in the first half," said St. Edward coach Michelle Dawson, whose team is headed to state for the first time since 2007. "We were a little hesitant and pushing shots. I just told them at halftime to keep their level of energy up."
The Wave got back in the game quickly after the halftime break. A Madison Knott 3-pointer 37 seconds into the third quarter ignited a 17-1 St. Edward run that took just under five minutes.
The Wave tied the game at 30 on a Castoro basket with 3:20 left in the quarter, took the lead 32-30 on a steal and a basket by senior Maddie Spagnola at the 3:10 mark but then trailed 34-32 going into the fourth when Illiana (23-9) scored the last 4 points of the quarter.
The helter skelter fourth quarter is tape Green Wave fans will watch over and over.
Down 44-42, Spagnola (game-high 18 points) buried a 3-pointer from the right corner with 2:38 left to give St. Edward the lead for good.
Junior Mallory Rejman (20 points, 8 rebounds) made 2 free throws at the 1:54 mark to make it 47-44. Eden Schipper scored for the Vikings at 1:40 to make it 47-46 then, after a series of turnovers and missed free throws, Castoro found herself at the line with 12 seconds left. She calmly hit nothing but net on both, Illiana put up a wild 3-point attempt at the buzzer that didn't find the rim and the raucous St. Edward celebration was on.
"I knew they were going in," said Castoro of her free throws. "It's the mental aspect. You just have to be confident."
St. Edward finished shooting 19 of 60 with Spagnola's consistency -- 7 of 16 shooting including 3 of 5 on 3-pointers -- being key.
"I can't describe it," Spagnola said of going to the state finals. "I'm at a loss for words. This is the greatest feeling of my entire life."
Also key to the win was St. Edward's defense on Illiana senior standout Gabby Kreykes. Kreykes, who scored 37 points in the Lisle Christmas tournament final won by St. Edward 70-67, was limited to 15 Monday. She committed her fifth foul on Castoro with 12 seconds left, thus taking her out of the offensive equation on the game's final possession.
"Yssa (Sto. Domingo) and Mariel (Franco) did an incredible job on Kreykes," said Dawson. "The game took a definite swing and our defense had a lot to do with that."
"It's all about defense," Spagnola added. "The first three minutes of the second half we just knew."