NORMAL Aurora Central Catholic had far more concerns than relishing the historic occasion of appearing in the first Class 2A girls basketball state semifinal at Redbird Arena at Illinois State University on Friday evening.
"We're not happy to just be here," Aurora Central coach Mark Fitzgerald said after his team played the first Final Four game in a girls sport in school history.
But the Chargers' shared vision of a state-championship appearance evaporated early against Quincy Notre Dame, the defending state champion which routed Aurora Central 74-36.
Aurora Central will face Stillman Valley, which lost 44-29 to Breese Central in the nightcap, for third place at 6:30 tonight.
Four seconds were all Notre Dame needed to take the lead for good as Kristen Gengenbacher scored on a fast-break layup off the opening tip.
Notre Dame (32-1) scored on its opening three possessions, but ACC would stay close early on field goals from Katilyn Rosa and Lisa Rodriquez.
But disaster would strike the Chargers' offensive system for nearly nine minutes.
ACC failed to record another field goal until Ashley Wilk, who led the Chargers with 14 points, scored on back-to-back possessions nearly three minutes into the second quarter.
Notre Dame outscored the Chargers (25-6) 21-1 during the span, opening a 27-5 lead in the process.
"We weren't making our shots," Aurora Central senior standout Jackie Cardona said. "It was harder to get started on our offense."
The Raiders' punishing half-court man-to-man defense, intermixed with full-court pressure, was the primary offender to the Chargers' offensive woes.
In falling behind 42-17 at the break, ACC missed 20 of its 26 field-goal attempts.
Notre Dame hit the Chargers with a multifaceted attack, employing flawless pick and rolls in its offensive sets while humbling ACC with an unrelenting running attack and an equally inexorable second-chance barrage.
"We knew we were in for a challenge," Chargers coach Mark Fitzgerald said of Notre Dame, which advanced to the championship game for the third consecutive year. "You have to pick your poison."
Shannon Foley drained four 3-pointers for Notre Dame, while the Chargers' perimeter game struggled against the Raiders' stingy defense.
Tesa Alderman sank the Chargers' only 3-pointer in 9 attempts long after the game was decided.
Hitting ACC with waves of bodies and its front line blessed with both height and athleticism, the Raiders duplicated their 23-point second-quarter outburst in the third quarter to lead 65-25.
Wilk, however, played her heart until the very end, adding a game-high 11 rebounds to her team-high point total.
The other ACC starters Rodriquez, Rosa, Alderman and Cardona were only able to combine for 5 field goals in 26 attempts.
"We used that half-man (defense) to bust out," Notre Dame coach Eric Orne said. "That is the backbone of our defense."
Jordan Frericks had a game-high 17 points to lead Notre Dame, which received 16 apiece from Foley and Kassidy Gengenbacher.
Alderman and Cardona finished with five each for ACC.
"I'm not ashamed of my team," Fitzgerald said. "They battled until the very end."
Aurora Central Catholic High School
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