NORMAL -- An amazing ending to an even more amazing run through the postseason ended appropriately Saturday night when Grace Loberg had the basketball in her hands when the final buzzer sounded.
Junior Stephanie Hart rolled in a shot from just to the left of the basket with 3.2 seconds showing on the clock and Loberg intercepted Edwardsville's inbounds pass as the buzzer was going off Saturday night as the Geneva girls basketball team won the program's first state championship, capturing the Class 4A title 41-40 in front of a large and frenzied crowd at Redbird Arena.
"I saw the ball go through Grace's hands and it landed in mine. I knew there wasn't a lot of time left and I had to toss it up," said Hart of Geneva's second straight heart-stopping win, following Friday's 34-33 win over Fremd in the semifinals when junior Margaret Whitley beat the buzzer with a bank shot in the lane.
Ironically, it as Whitley's missed shot of the same nature on Saturday that started the game-ending sequence.
Trailing the No.3 and previously undefeated Tigers 40-39 with 23 seconds to go after Edwardsville's Rachel Pranger hit a layup to give the Tigers their first and only lead of the game, Geneva worked the ball into Whitley's hands. The junior guard, like she did Friday, drove the lane but missed the attempted déjà vu bank shot. The ball rolled through Loberg's hands and into Hart's, and she delivered the championship winner.
"I saw Marg driving and she got around her person. I was boxing out as hard as ever but the ball went through my hands and Steph got it and put it in," said the senior Loberg, who led the Vikings with 17 points, 9 rebounds and 4 steals. "I was so excited but I knew it wasn't over. They had 1.9 seconds and I was so nervous they were going to score."
"We've been talking about this since fifth grade," said Hart, who had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals as well as being charged with defending Edwardsville all-stater Makenzie Silvey.
"It's all about our heart. These other teams have been here before and we haven't. We just didn't want it to end this year."
"We knew they were undefeated but that's OK, we liked that challenge," said Geneva coach Sarah Meadows of the Tigers. "This group has been playing together a long time and they're just super close and confident in each other."
Geneva (29-4), which became the first Upstate Eight Conference school to win a girls basketball state title, led the entire game, sans the 20 seconds Edwardsville had the lead prior to Hart's game-winner.
The Vikings built a 23-17 lead with 2:35 left in the second quarter when Loberg was whistled for her second foul and went to the bench. Edwardsville forged a 23-23 tie by halftime but Geneva came out on a 7-2 run to start the third quarter and took a 30-25 lead after a Loberg basket with 3:36 left in the period.
Geneva led 39-35 after a Loberg basket with 1:46 left but at the 1:05 mark Silvey (17 points), a Southern Illinois recruit, drained a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 39-38. On its ensuing possession Geneva missed the front end of a one-and-one, Edwardsville rebounded and Pranger (11 points, 11 rebounds) scored with 23 seconds left to put the Tigers ahead 40-39, setting Geneva up with the final possession.
"I liked what we were getting offensively and I felt confident that last possession," Meadows said.
The win brings an end to an outstanding athletic career at Geneva for Loberg, who will play volleyball at Wisconsin.
"Both of our games here were so close and so exciting," Loberg said. "Everybody played so well. I wanted this so bad for our team and for Meadows. It's my last time wearing a Geneva jersey and I wanted to go out on top."
"She deserves this so much," said Meadows of Loberg. "She's a fantastic and wonderful example and she does it the right way. She's just a tough kid. She was determined to get this done. These seven games in the playoffs she really stepped up."
Vikings' fans will get one last chance to honor their heroes when the school holds a pep assembly welcoming the state champs at 7:30 a.m. Monday.
"Geneva is a special community," said Meadows, who added that she got 172 text messages after Friday's win. "We've just got good solid kids and I'm so happy for them."