Hart's shot capped fairy tale ending for state champion Geneva
As a sports writer, there's nothing better than covering a basketball game that comes down to the last possession and watching a player drain a game-winning shot as time expires.
Seeing the ball go through the net while hearing the horn go off. Watching teammates storm the court and mob the player who made it. Seeing the player disappear into a sea of classmates who join the on-court celebration.
Having that happen in the postseason?
Decide a state championship?
Have that buzzer-beater happen to the same school by the same player two years in a row in the state championship game? That could not possibly happen.
Except it did. Geneva's Stephanie Hart lived it, and I was lucky enough to see her Vikings beat Montini 28-26 to win the 2018 Class 4A state championship after she did the same thing against Edwardsville in a 41-40 thriller in 2017.
Back-to-back state titles won in the final seconds on a shot by the same player?
Hart just completed her sophomore season leading Lewis University in assists and helping the Flyers earn their eighth straight Division II NCAA Tournament berth. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewis wasn't able to play in the tournament.
I asked Hart how often she's watched a replay of the Montini game.
"Over the past two years I have watched that game a lot," Hart said. "After our college season was cut short, I found myself at home watching clips from the final seconds of that game. To this day I still get the chills and a huge smile on my face watching that shot go in. My favorite part of those clips are the fans and families celebrating. We had such a great support system behind us at Geneva."
Of course Geneva's second straight state title, made sweeter coming against a school that had become a nemesis to the Vikings in past postseasons and Christmas tournaments, took much more than Hart's shot.
From the coaching of Sarah Meadows to a talented and cohesive lineup of Margaret Whitley, Maddy Yelle, Madison Mallory, Brie Borkowicz and super sub Lindsay Blackmore, the Vikings displayed the kind of teamwork and chemistry that came from playing together since fourth grade. They trailed Montini 26-22 going to the fourth quarter and didn't allow the Broncos another point. They tied the game and then held the ball for the final two minutes until Hart buried the 17-foot game-winner off a perfectly executed out-of-bounds play.
A once-in-a-lifetime experience that Hart somehow experienced twice.
"Wow does time fly," Hart said. "That whole experience feels like it was just yesterday.
"Whenever I think about our two state titles and the way we got them I still can't believe it. The whole thing is like a movie. We were all truly blessed to have been able to play for such an amazing program and our amazing coaches. Ending our high school careers in that way could not have been more perfect. We all know what we achieved at Geneva was incredible and we are all so thankful we got to experience it."
And speaking for myself plus all those Geneva fans Hart loves watching go crazy in the replays, we were all thankful we got to see it. Even if we still can't quite believe it happened.