NORMAL -- When Maine West seniors Allison Pearson and Catherine Johnson were freshmen, they started on coach Derril Kipp's team that won just 9 games.
Pearson, Johnson and the rest of Maine West's seniors played the final game of their careers Saturday night in a place even they never would have expected -- at Redbird Arena in the state's Class 4A third place game.
Maine West ended its season in style, defeating Edwardsville 45-41 in a back-and-forth game with 13 lead changes and 7 ties.
Senior guard Alisa Fallon put the Warriors (32-2) ahead for good when she scored on backdoor cut with two minutes remaining.
Geneva, the only team to defeat the Warriors this year, denied them the ending they wanted Friday night. But Maine West got the next-best thing -- something they never saw coming four years ago.
"When we were freshmen, I was just talking to Allison about this, I remember they said as seniors we'll go downstate and I was like, 'Are you kidding?' " Johnson said. "We didn't even win our conference, and our conference isn't that great. It was a rough season. It's just crazy we are actually here now."
The Hall of Fame coach Kipp didn't get to see the freshmen he believed in so much make it this far, passing away from cancer after their sophomore seasons. Kim de Marigny took over as coach last year.
Adding the third-place trophy to Maine West's extensive collection meant a lot to the senior class.
Kipp's 1988 team won the state championship, and he also coached the state runner-ups in 1993 and third-place teams in 1987 and 1992.
The 1988 team was honored at halftime Saturday, with assistant coach Jerry Stonequist and Kipp's three daughters receiving a nice round of applause.
"It's unreal," Pearson said. "I would never guess this is where we'd be. Going freshman year to senior year. Kipp always believed in us. He always believed we were good and could win. We got better sophomore year and Coach D came in and made us work hard and we got farther last year -- and now we're all the way down here. It's been an amazing run."
Against Edwardsville (30-2), the Warriors grabbed their first lead when Johnson took a pass from Rachel Kent and sank a corner 3-pointer, making it 9-8. Kent followed with a 3 of her own, and Angela Dugalic sank a long jumper just before the first quarter buzzer for a 14-12 lead.
Maine West built a 27-19 lead late in the second quarter on back-to-back 3s from Kent and Pearson. But the Tigers closed the quarter strong with 5 straight in the final minute to pull within 27-24 at halftime.
The Warriors also committed a costly turnover on the last possession of the third quarter, and Quierra Love took it the other way for a layup at the buzzer to put the Tigers ahead 35-34 going to the fourth.
The teams kept trading the lead in the final 8 minutes. Fallon's jumper gave the Warriors a 38-37 lead; Dugalic hit one to make it 40-39, then she assisted Fallon on the basket to go ahead to good, 42-41.
Dugalic added a jumper from the foul line for a 44-41 lead, and the Warriors came up with the stops on the defensive end to clinch the win.
Kent and Dugalic, the two starters who return next year, led the Warriors with 18 and 13 points, respectively.
"This year's team was something special again and I'm really going to miss these guys," Kent said. "But next year Angela and I are going to be a good duo together. We're looking forward to next year and we'll have a lot of fun together."
Fallon added 7 points and Johnson had 3 steals. Kate Martin led Edwardsville with 13 points.
De Marigny said it's a season the Warriors will never forget.
"It was important for us to be here, not to be spectators but be participants," de Marigny said. "Each one of these girls and myself recognize that. This program has such a legacy of excellent girls basketball. To continue the rich heritage that is at Maine West. And we want to continue to build on that now in the new era with Derril being gone we just want to continue the tradition that he worked so hard to start."