Fremd knocks off defending champ Maine West
With 6:45 remaining in Monday's Class 4A Conant girls basketball supersectional, the scoreboard read: Fremd 46, Maine West 30.
Fast forward to 2:20 left in the game.
Fremd 48, Maine West 47.
The defending Class 4A state champion Warriors were trying to pull of one of the biggest supersectional comebacks in IHSA girls basketball history.
"The gym got really loud with their fans and student section," said Fremd senior Emily Klaczek of the Warriors' furious 17-2 run. "It wasn't going our way."
Until it counted.
Junior Ruthie Montella's free throw with 1:43 left made it 49-47 and triggered a 9-2 run by the Mid-Suburban League champions to pull out a drama-filled 57-49 triumph in the Elite Eight classic.
Fremd (28-7) advanced to the state finals for the third time in five years and will face Lake Park (26-8) in the 5:30 p.m. semifinal on Friday at Illinois State's Redbird Arena.
Klaczek, who scored a team-high 16 points and classmate Olivia Hill are no strangers to the Redbird Arena floor.
They were on Fremd's state runner-up team in 2017.
"It's a dream come true to be going there (Normal) again," Klaczek said. "I'm really proud of these girls."
Fremd coach Dave Yates was proud of how the girls withstood the Maine West charge.
"We called a timeout there (48-47) and we said we had to answer," he said. "And we did. It's a blur right now but we made a play and got ourselves back up."
Montella made that play as she drove to the basket and was fouled. The William & Mary-bound junior hit 1 of 2 free throws for the 49-47 advantage.
Maine West (30-4) then missed a 3-pointer. Klaczek grabbed the rebound and was eventually fouled. She hit a pair of free throws for a 51-47 lead with 1:14 left.
The Alabama-Birmingham recruit then came up with a big steal in the Warriors' frontcourt.
Junior Grace LaBarge ended up well behind the Warriors' defense for an easy layup.
After another West miss, Montella grabbed the rebound and LaBarge once again finished on the opposite end (layup) for a 55-49 lead with 24.3 seconds left.
"It was getting a little dicey there," Yates said. "They (Maine West) had a great run. They're a great team. So we knew that run was coming. We didn't think they would just lay down but I thought our answer was amazing."
The Warriors' amazing run included eight of All-American Angela Dugalic's game-high 26 points. Her steal and layup made it 48-47.
"Grace and Liz Prigge did a great job switching off and on her (Dugalic)," Yates said. "You don't stop her with one kid. I thought our other kids were there helping early and just trying to make it difficult for her.
"But man is she good. It wasn't like we shut her down. She got her points but I feel we had enough where we made it difficult for her to score."
Montella scored 12 points for the Vikings.
"We showed a lot of composure at the end," she said. "Seeing that we're a senior-heavy group, I think that helped us a lot."
LaBarge added 10 points and teammate Ella Burns had eight, including back-to-back 3-pointers to end the first quarter (19-9 Vikings' lead).
Montella and Hill each had big 3-pointers in the second quarter which extended the lead to 25-13.
Klaczek's 3-point play with 7:14 left gave Fremd its biggest lead at 46-30 before Dugalic's putback started the 17-2 really.
"We got it to where wanted it but we just couldn't push it over," said Maine West coach Kim De Marigny (125-10 record), who was coaching in her fourth supersectional in her four years.
The Warriors defeated Fremd 59-42 in a nonconference game in Des Plaines on Feb 8.
"That was a different Fremd team that we played four weeks ago," de Marigny said.
"The last time we played them they embarrassed us because they completely outplayed us," Yates said. "We challenged our kids to come out and show we've improved and gotten better and I think we showed that."
de Marigny was hardly surprised by her team's comeback.
"That's just who these kids are," said the coach, who got 8 points from Lena Albo and seven from Brianna Hernandez. "They've worked so hard for me. And Dylan (Van Fleet) stayed in there to the end (despite fourth foul early in fourth quarter). They played their hearts out.
"I've got a great bunch of kids. And a great staff that works so diligently. No one knows the behind the scenes work, the scouting reports and everything, This organization was formed correctly. It's the staff, administration, parents and the kids."