NORMAL -- The end result might not have been a fifth state championship for Montini's girls basketball program, but the Broncos did keep a streak intact Saturday night.
A barrage of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter broke open a close game and catapulted the Broncos to a 35-22 win over Fremd in the third-place game of the Class 4A finals at Redbird Arena.
It's the eighth time since 2008 Montini has played on a Saturday in the state finals and the eighth time the Broncos have won, including state titles in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014 in Class 3A. This is Montini's first time bringing home state hardware in Class 4A.
"It's nice to win on Saturdays," said Montini coach Jason Nichols, who spent most of the night restricted to the bench after picking up a technical foul just six minutes into the game.
"The girls really wanted to be in the championship game but it wasn't meant to be. The IHSA puts on a wonderful show down here and it's great they don't send you home if you lose on Friday."
The methodical pace of Saturday's game was dictated by defense and less-than-stellar shooting by both teams until Montini (33-2) got hot in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos trailed only once in the game and that was for all of 17 seconds in the third quarter. They led 15-10 at halftime but Fremd (28-8) -- which didn't make a field goal for an eight-minute stretch over the second and third quarters -- did come out on a 6-0 run to start the second half and grab a 16-15 lead on a basket from Emily Klaczek with 4:35 left in the third.
Sophomore Sam Mitchell hit a 3-pointer 17 seconds later to give Montini the lead for good.
The Vikings hung tough and trailed just 21-18 after three quarters, but Montini nailed three 3-pointers in a one-minute span to open the fourth quarter and take a 30-18 lead Fremd couldn't recover from. Senior Claudia Kunzer, junior Illysee Pitts and senior Kaylee Bambule all hit 3s during the run.
Fremd senior Grace Tworek scored at the 4:38 mark to make it a 30-20 game, but Kunzer delivered the dagger when she hit another 3 for the Broncos with 3:11 to go that made it 33-20.
"Sometimes shots fall and sometimes they don't," said Kunzer, a South Dakota State recruit. "What we're known for is hitting our 3s. Unfortunately (Friday) night we weren't hot but tonight we were."
Montini's smothering zone defense limited Fremd to 5-of-34 shooting, including 0 of 13 from 3-point range.
"Our defense the last three games has been able to dictate the pace and I thought we did a really good job tonight," Nichols said "(Fremd coach) Dave Yates has a brilliant mind offensively so to hold them to that many points is incredible."
The win brought satisfaction out of disappointment for Bambule and Kunzer after Friday's loss.
"To play in this game and end my career at Montini with a win is unbelievable,"said Bambule, the Broncos' all-time leading 3-point shooter, who will move on to Ohio University next year. "We got hit with two of our better players (Nikki Oppenheimer and Zoe Zacker) with season-ending injuries and it showed a lot of toughness and a lot of heart for us to get here. I'm beyond proud of our team."
Added Kunzer: "As the final seconds were ticking off I was thinking about not playing for this coach again. I am who I am because of him."
Nichols, who did insert Zacker, a sophomore, into the lineup for the final second of the game, lauded Kunzer and Bambule, as well as Oppenheimer and senior Rachel Maher.
"We've had some good groups of girls but these two (Kunzer and Bambule) have been huge and they have a big place in my heart along with Rachel and Nikki," Nichols said.
Yates took the loss in stride, knowing his team wasn't expected to make its third straight trip to the Final Four.
"They've been amazing," Yates said of his team, which graduates Tworek, Natalie Connors, Missy Adrian, Anna LaValle, Hayley Williams and Midori Williams. "The fact we graduated five of our top six players and had one returning starter and a bunch of kids who had bit roles -- and then to come within a bank shot of being in the championship game again speaks volumes about their belief in each other. This is one of the proudest moments of mine."
Tworek, who will play at Harvard next year, also took a moment to reflect on her four years at Fremd, three of which ended in the state finals including back-to-back championship game appearances.
"Being in the state championship the last two years was exciting, but this year was one of my favorite years," she said. "It was pretty cool to make it down here with this group of girls because we didn't have much experience. My four years at Fremd have been pretty positive. Not many people can say they made it to state four years in a row and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the teammates I had."