It was its most daunting task of the season, but the 2011 Class 4A state runner-up is still alive in the 2012 state tourney.
Trailing by 13 points with less than six minutes left against Hersey in the Huskies own regional semifinal, Zion-Benton staged a furious comeback to close the game with a 17-0 run and capture a 49-45 victory.
Illinois State-bound Octavia Crump, playing with 4 fouls in the final 2:50, scored 13 of her game-high 22 points in the final quarter.
"We knew we had to pressure hard," said Crump, who had 2 steals during the dominating late rally. "We work on four different full-court presses and we needed them."
The eighth-seeded Zee-Bees (19-8) advanced to Friday's 7:30 p.m. championship game against top-seeded Fremd (22-5).
A 3-pointer by senior Jen Hall, a steal and layup by junior Meg Cerniglia and layup by senior Corinne Busby gave No. 9 Hersey (16-14) a 45-32 lead with 5:54 to play.
But Zion 5-foot-10 senior Aaliyah Smith rebounded her own miss to make it 45-34 with 5:39 left and ignite the Zee-Bees' big finish.
"It was a lot of heart," said Zion coach Tanya Johnson, who guided Loyola to a pair of Class AA state crowns in the late 1990s. "The girls didn't give up. It was ugly but they didn't want to lose."
Crump scored 9 points in the final run. Her putback tied the game at 45-45 with 1:41 left and a fastbreak layup by Samantha Rodriguez made it 47-45 with 1:09 left.
Rodriguez then came up with a big steal off the press and got the ball ahead to Crump, who was fouled and made 2 free throws with 52.4 seconds left for the final margin.
"It was a great game," said Hersey coach Mary Fendley. "Every team wants to finish playing its best basketball. We did for much of the game but then we just ran out of gas.
"We stopped defending as well as we had, and we had a tough time handling the ball against their pressure."
Hall finished her career with a team-high 19 points, including two 3-pointers. Busby added 11 points and a 3.
"We really came together as a team," Hall said. "And we put out our best effort. Everyone played well and contributed."
Renee Poulos, who took a nice pass from senior Maggie Hogen, made a layup to start the second quarter, giving Hersey a 6-5 lead.
The two teams traded baskets until Hersey went on a 12-2 run. Hall's 3-pointer made it 16-9 and 2 free throws by Poulos increased the lead to 20-11.
Junior Casey Weyhrich took advantage of a nice screen to score a layup which gave Hersey a 24-13 cushion at intermission.
Crump, who pulled down 8 rebounds, scored her first points of the second half on a reverse layup of her own rebound which brought Zion to within 29-19.
"She's a workhorse," Johnson said of the 6-foot senior, who was 1 point shy of her season-high 23 points. "It's always hard to play Hersey at Hersey."
John Hersey High School
Zion-Benton Township High School
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