Maine West guard Acacia Hernandez was overcome with emotion after the Warriors defeated Evanston 50-31 to claim the Class 4A Niles West sectional title Thursday.
Hernandez, one of only three seniors on the Maine West roster, was able to reflect on her four years in the program as she and her teammates took turns cutting down the championship net.
"This means everything to me," said Hernandez. "I've been waiting for this since my freshman year. Coach Kipp had it all laid out for us, and coach Kim executed his plan and did everything that he set out to do.
Coach Kim is Kim deMarigny, the Warriors head coach. And coach Kipp, of course, is Derril Kipp, the long-time and much-loved former coach who passed away last year.
The final prep game Kipp ever coached was against Evanston last year in regionals, and Maine West has dedicated this season to him.
Kipp won 788 games in his career and led the Warriors to a state championship in 1987-88.
Next up for Maine West is a 7 p.m. Monday supersectional matchup against Geneva, a 66-40 winner against Rolling Meadows, at Addison Trail.
"This team is carrying on coach Kipp's legacy," said deMarigny. "They work hard in practice, they're very athletic, but the thing that impresses me most about them is that they play with such heart."
Maine West (28-3) jumped out to a quick 6-1 lead, and sophomore Rachel Kent said they came out with a different mindset than the game against the Wildkits earlier this season, a 14-point loss.
"We weren't scared this time," said Kent. "We kept attacking."
Teammate Angela Dugalic, however, admitted that there might still have been some nerves.
"I can't say I wasn't scared," said Dugalic. "I was scared. But you can't think about that when you're out on the court. You've got to put it out of your mind, otherwise you won't play well."
The good feelings for the Warriors disappeared in the second quarter, however, as Evanston rallied to close within 15-14 at the half.
"We talked at halftime about someone taking the lid off the basket," joked deMarigny, "and letting some of our shots fall.
"We also talked about defense and how we had to ramp up our 'D,' shut them down and play smart."
Maine West did just that in an impressive performance, holding Evanston scoreless in the third quarter while taking a 27-14 lead with eight minutes to play.
And with the game on the line, Warriors junior Alisa Fallon took over in the fourth quarter.
Fallon, who'd spent early time on the bench due to 3 quick fouls, scored 14 of her team-high 19 points in the final stanza to put the game out of reach.
"I didn't worry when I was out," said Fallon, "because my teammates were doing the job."
Evanston senior Leighah-Amori Wool tried to lead a comeback in the fourth quarter by scoring 13 consecutive Wildkits points, but the advantage Maine West had built was too much to overcome.
Wool fnished with a game-high 20 points.
"One player is not going to beat you," said Dugalic of the stellar effort of Wool. "It's all about teamwork, and even if someone scores 70 points, if your team scores 71 you're going to win."
Dugalic was outstanding Thursday with 8 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, while Kent added 10 points.
Allison Pearson scored 6 points, all in the final quarter from the free-throw line, while the Warriors defense held top-seeded Evanston to just 8 field goals and 2-for-17 shooting from the 3-point line.
"Evanston is such a great team," said deMarigny. "I couldn't rest easy, even when we had that big lead. Maybe when my head hits the pillow tonight will be the first time today I can rest easy."