Maine West achieves perfection with state championship
NORMAL -- With 20 seconds left in Saturday night's Class 4A girls basketball championship game, Angela Dugalic waited near the scorer's table for a hug from Rachel Kent as both players left the Redbird Arena court knowing a state title was moments away.
Seconds later, the Maine West students started chanting "Undefeated, undefeated." On the bench the Warriors waited for the clock to finish ticking down so they could finally celebrate the state title they seemed destined to win as they plowed through a tough regular-season schedule.
Maine West clinched a perfect 35-0 season with a 58-46 victory over a gritty Mother McAuley team at Redbird Arena.
"It's breathtaking just because she's been with me since freshman year," Dugalic said above the din from the celebrating student section as she and her teammates waited to collect their medals and first-place trophy. "And I couldn't have asked for a better teammate. She's the best player I've ever played with, hands down."
"I've been playing with her since ever since I can remember," Kent added, "and just to share that moment with her was something special."
Even Maine West coach Kim deMarigny had a little trouble believing the Warriors had achieved perfection.
"I knew that we had the potential, but I really thought that we would stumble somewhere along the way, that somebody would get us," she said. "But this team really has a winner's mentality. They do not want to lose. As the season progressed I guess I thought, well, maybe it's a possibility. It could happen.
It was in doubt early in the game, when Mother McAuley (34-3) took a 6-point lead in the first quarter. It wasn't much, but then the Warriors didn't trail much all season.
"We just tried to tell our team not to panic," deMarigny said. "Don't panic. We haven't been behind very many times, but you didn't get to this place by panicking, so don't panic. Get yourself together. Play the game that you know how to play and get the ball inside."
By halftime the Warriors had a 4-point lead.
"The defense," deMarigny said, explaining how the Warriors took the lead and built on it. "It's the tenacity of our defense. It's taking maybe a little bit better shot instead of the first available. Let's get a good shot, let's get the ball inside in the paint. We knew that Angela had to step up and start controlling the paint. Rachel Kent, her defensive effort is second to none."
"We just said Angela get yourself in the paint and we haven't come this far to lose now, so let's get it," Kent added.
Leading 41-36 to start the fourth quarter, the Warriors kicked their defense up a notch and made some free throws to pull away.
"These kids, they gave it everything that they had," said Mother McAuley coach Ashley Luke Clanton. "And for three quarters they kept it tight. I was hoping they could keep it tight till the end of the fourth so that maybe we could go steal one, but we just kind of ran out of gas a little bit."
Kent led the Warriors with 19 points. Junior guard Dylan Van Fleet, who had 23 points Friday in the semifinal victory against Rockton Hononegah, continued to outscore her average with 17 points.
Dugalic scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
"Their big kids are good around the basket," Clanton said. "They finish baskets, and that's why they're big-time kids."
Mother McAuley guard Jenna Badali scored 13 points before fouling out, and Grace Hynes had 12.
"This is amazing," Kent said. "It doesn't feel real right now. I didn't know what could happen. I didn't think it was going to happen, but this team just pulled through and we did it."
"I still can't believe it myself," Dugalic added with a champion's smile.