When a team returns just one starter from a Class 4A state runner-up, it's got to have plenty of heart to get back downstate.
And Fremd's Vikings sure showed that on Monday night in Carpentersville.
After watching a 10-point lead turn into a 42-41 deficit with 6:29 left in the game, it was gut-check time for the Mid-Suburban West champs.
Sure enough, they got their pulse rate clicking again and responded with a 55-45 triumph over Rockford Boylan in the Class 4A Dundee-Crown supersectional.
The Vikings become the second team from the MSL to make three repeat visits to the girls basketball state finals. Coach Tom Dineen's Buffalo Grove teams did it from 2006 to 2008.
Friday's 7:15 p.m. semifinal in Normal at Illinois State's Redbird Arena will be a battle between the Vikings -- Fremd at 28-6 against Geneva at 27-4.
"It's amazing, I'm super excited," said Fremd senior Grace Tworek (game-high 18 points, four 3-pointers, 5 blocked shots), the only returning starter from the last two Fremd teams (which were second in the state to Benet).
"It's crazy," added senior Midori Williams, who scored 15 points thanks to five 3-pointers. "No one expected us to be here. It's just amazing that we are going back downstate again -- and so exciting."
Coincidentally, that 42-41 score that gave Boylan its last lead of the game, was the final score when the Titans edged Fremd at the Martin Luther King Tournament in DeKalb in January.
But this time there was more scoring to come, the majority by Fremd, including arguably the most important baskets of the game.
Williams fired home back-to-back 3-pointers from the left side to give Fremd a 47-42 lead it protected to the finish.
"Our coach (Dave Yates) always tell me to be confident when I shoot," Williams said. "And my teammates have so much trust in me. Whether you hit them or miss, my teammates will come back and play well."
The Titans came back and played well after falling behind 26-16 with 4:12 left in the first half.
They finished on an 8-2 run, however, Titans guard Frankie Schiro injured her knee on a drive to the basket with 3.9 seconds left in the half. She remained in pain for a few minutes and was through for the night.
"My heart hurts worse," said the sophomore after the game. "I know my knee is something bad, but to lose like this when we are such a good team, it's just really hard to take."
With Schiro down, the Titans got a nice lift from Emily Horgan (2.9 points per game), who converted three 3-pointers for 9 points.
"She's a good junior," said Titans coach Paul Perrone. "She's going to be a great senior."
Her third 3-pointer started Boylan on its big second half run after trailing 35-28 and then taking its first lead at 36-35 on a nice bank shot by Peyton Kennedy.
Tworek's fourth 3-pointer regained the lead for Fremd at 38-36 heading into the final period.
Fremd senior Missy Adrian, who scored 12 points and then sat out the last four minutes of the first half with foul trouble, finished with 14 points while senior Hayley Williams and freshman Emily Klaczek each chipped in 4 points.
While the Vikings scored a lot in the paint in the first half, all their field goals in the second half from 3-point range -- three by Midori Williams and two by Tworek, who combined for nine total.
"We had to go to a zone," Perrone said. "They were cutting through us. But we might have stayed in the zone too long."
Junior guard McKenzie Brown, who led Boylan with 12 points, made a steal and layup to make it 47-44 with 3 minutes to play.
But the Vikings used their passing and dribbling game to slow things down and converted 8 of 11 free throws in the final 2:42 to lock up the program's fifth supersectional victory.
"I am so proud of my team," Brown said. "I feel good to be able to come back when we were down and play with a team like Fremd. We did things no one thought we could. Fremd is a great team. You've got to give credit to them. And we'll be back next year."
And Fremd will be back in Normal.
"I could not be prouder of our girls because I don't think a lot of people earlier this season ever even remotely had us in the conversation (about going down state)," Yates said. "Our kids have kept getting better and improving as the season went on. And that was our goal from the beginning of the season."
For Tworek, it will be her third time starting at Redbird Arena.
She credited all her teammates, including fellow D-I recruit Adrian, whose 12 points helped Fremd build the lead in the game's first 10 minutes.
"Missy did great," said Tworek, who picked up her third foul with 2:05 left in the third quarter. "It's hard to post up against athletic inside girls like they had. You can get tired. We adjusted to it and finally in the second half we avoided fouls and just kept scoring and playing defense."
"That's a very good team," Yates said of Boylan. "I didn't think they would be a pushover. Those were big 3-pointers by Midori. And so was the one by Grace at the end of third quarter. When we got those points, the girls realized they just had to dig down, play defense and rebound the rest of the game."