Benet at its best against Fremd
NORMAL -- Saving your best for last might be a sports cliché, but that's exactly what Benet did.
The Redwings had a fourth quarter -- and a game -- they won't soon forget, running away from Fremd in the final eight minutes to notch a 61-39 win in the championship game of the Class 4A girls basketball tournament at Redbird Arena on Saturday night.
Benet (34-3) won its first state championship in its first try and became just the second school, and the first in Class 4A, to win girls state championships in volleyball and basketball in the same school year.
Quincy Notre Dame completed that same feat in Class 3A in 2012.
"Oh my gosh, this is such an amazing feeling," said Benet junior guard Kathleen Doyle, who scored a team-high 18 points and dished out 5 assists. "We worked so hard for this day and I'm just so proud of our team."
Fremd, also playing for its first state title in girls basketball and in its first state final tournament since 1977, finished the season 29-5.
"I'm extremely proud of these girls," said Fremd coach Dave Yates. "I wish we could have brought a little of (Friday) night to tonight, but it's a great group of kids and the consistency they played with down the stretch was amazing. Unfortunately the last half wasn't our best."
Much of that had to do with the Benet defense and the way in which Doyle, who had 9 points in the fourth quarter, took over on both ends of the floor.
Nursing a 38-35 lead early in the fourth quarter after a 21-21 halftime tie, the Redwings went on a 19-2 run to put away the state title. It started when Doyle made a steal and found senior Morgan Thomalla for a layup at the other end to put Benet ahead 40-35 at the 6:44 mark of the fourth quarter.
The onslaught didn't end until senior Emily Eshoo made two free throws with a minute to play that put Benet ahead 57-37.
In between the Redwings held Fremd to two Haley Gorecki free throws. In fact the Vikings' only points of the fourth quarter were six free throws from Gorecki, who had a game-high 20 points but was held to 5-of-14 shooting in a tough 1-on-1 battle with Doyle.
"She's a really good player," said Gorecki, a Duke recruit, of Doyle. "She's really talented and I wish her a lot of luck in the future."
Doyle and Benet didn't need much luck. Instead the Redwings persevered through a first half in which they went 0 of 10 from 3-point range to come back in the second half and use more of an inside game.
"We were unflappable," Doyle said. "We just kept playing our game and kept our heads in it."
And their hands, especially on the defensive end, helping Fremd commit 13 turnovers in the second half, 8 of them in the fourth quarter when the Vikings went 5 minutes, 27 seconds without scoring and missed all 7 of their field-goal attempts.
"It was our defense," said first-year Benet coach Joe Kilbride. "The kids really guarded well. I think they started smelling it at the end of the third quarter. Our two rules for the game were to defend the rim and find Gorecki. Everyone had to know where she was on every pass. She's exceptional but our kids did a great job and Kathleen did a really good job of penetrating, which allowed us to get an inside-out game going."
Yates lamented the Vikings' turnover problems but credited Benet's defense.
"It's really difficult to score when we turned the ball over as much as we did, which is uncharacteristic of us," he said. "Benet played good defense. They took Gorecki out and forced other people to make plays.
"We really struggled to contain Doyle. She got around us and did a nice job of getting it to other kids."
Senior Emily Schramek added 15 points for the Redwings, who were 21-of-49 shooting on the night, while sophomore Katie Jaseckas had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Eshoo added 8 points and 5 rebounds.
"I've never had this feeling in my life," said Schramek, who had 9 of her points in the third quarter. "Everything we've worked for is a now a dream come true. We just used all of our energy and we wanted it so so badly."
Junior Bryana Hopkins added 10 points for Fremd, which got 6 rebounds each from her, Gorecki and sophomore Grace Tworek. The Vikes, though, managed to make just 13 of 42 field-goal attempts for 31 percent.
And while the loss left Gorecki and Fremd stunned and emotional, the Vikings' all-time leading scorer reflected on her outstanding playing days in Palatine.
"It's an amazing group of girls and I have nothing but the best memories," said Gorecki, choking back tears. "I wouldn't have wanted to do this with any other group of girls, and my coaches have been amazing."