Bianca Mando is not one of the starters for Maine West's girls basketball team.
But proving once again the importance of bench players, the 5-foot-8 senior guard hit 4 key throws in the final 1:53 of Monday night's Class 4A Hersey supersectional to help the Warriors hold off Lake Zurich 52-42.
Maine West earned its first trip to the final four of the state tournament since the late hall of famer Derril Kipp coached the Warriors to second place in the 1993 Class AA tourney.
Marianne Kipp, the wife of Derril, cut the down the final two strands of the net following the Warriors' 31st win in 32 games.
Maine West's only loss is to defending Class 4A state champion Geneva, which will be its opponent on Friday at 7:15 p.m. in the semifinals at Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
"Mr. Kipp definitely set the foundation for all of us four years ago," Mando said. "For Mrs. Kipp to come here to support us and give 100 percent of herself to us is such a great blessing. We love her."
Maine West fans in the near-capacity crowd were loving the Warriors' 16-2 start, highlighted a by a pair of 3-pointers from Alisa Fallon and one apiece from Allison Pearson and Catherine Johnson.
But the Bears (20-11) slowly crept back into the game, trailing 24-17 at intermission.
Maine West extended the lead to 40-23 after three quarters.
But the resilient Bears refused to surrender and got to within 48-42 with on sophomore Margueret Spear's second 3-pointer of the fourth quarter with 55.6 seconds left.
"Margueret has hit some big shots for us all season," said Bears coach Chris Bennett. "She's a nice player and has been our sixth man all season."
After Alisa Fallon (game-high 18 points, 2 steals, 2 assists) made a free throw with 51 seconds left, the Bears missed a 3-pointer with 41 seconds left that would have cut the lead to 4.
Mando was then fouled for a third time and made 1 of 2 free throws for a 50-42 lead with 30 seconds left.
"Probably the biggest of my career," Mando said of her 4 free throws down the stretch. "Obviously, I knew how to make them but some nerves did kick in. I just took it like practice and do it exactly like I do in practice."
"Oh, were those clutch," Johnson added of her classmate's free throws. "Thank God she got them. Those were huge and I told her they were huge. She gave us the spark off the bench which is exactly what we needed at that moment.
"Hitting those free throws were the main reason we won this game."
A game the Warriors wanted to win for Derril Kipp, who was the master in winning supersectionals with a career total of seven.
"We love Mrs. Kipp," Johnson added. "She is the best. She really deserved to be up there (cutting the nets). She and her family have been so nice to this whole team since my freshman year and I've known them since I was in sixth grade.
"They have been nothing but nice to us. Really everything that this has accomplished is because of that family, especially Mr. Kipp."
Senior McKenna Zobel (11 points) and junior Anna Biergans (10) led Lake Zurich while sophomore Ella Gilbertson and junior Maddy Piggott each chipped in 6.
"Our kids kept fighting," Bennett said. "We got down early, fought back. We got down big again, and fought back. Every time we made a run, they came right back at us."
But the Bears, who lost at home to Maine West 53-21 just three week ago, made this one interesting to the finish.
"I could not be more proud of ours seniors, and the entire team," Bennett said. "Our seniors have this slogan of 'Rise', and that's all they've done the last four years.
"They've gotten better every single season, wrapping it up with a regional and sectional championship. And they get the number (2018) put up on the board. I couldn't be more proud of them."
The Bears' rally from the early deficit did not surprise Bennett.
"It's a credit to our girls," he said "We've had a ton of games where we've been down early, and they've come back and won a lot of them.
"Maine West is such a great team. They've got a lot of weapons and a lot of different people who can score They will be a struggle for some one down state."
Following Fallon's 18 points for West were Pearson (10 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals), Angela Dugalic (10 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Johnson (8 points, 5 steals, 2 assist). Rachel Kent had a bucket and 2 steals.
And of course, there were Mando's free throws.
"Can you believe it, she did a great job," said Maine West coach Kim de Marigny said. "She's a senior. You put seniors on the floor to do great things, and she did. We practice pressure situations like that. There was a lot of pressure and she made them."
The Warriors put the pressure on the Bears early, and ended up hitting 5-of-5 from 3-point land in the first half. Fallon, an Army recruit, was 3-for- 3.
"We got the big lead and then we just kind of relaxed and Lake Zurich said, 'We see an opportunity,' " de Marigny said. "Lake Zurich is a great team and they didn't get here by accident."
Now West is going to Normal for the first time since Kipp's run of seven downstate appearances, including the 35-0 state championship team in 1988.
"That was awesome," de Marigny said of seeing Marianne Kipp cutting down the nets. "We miss Derril so much so this one was for him. Thirty years ago he had a big run, and we'd like to replicate that as well."