St. Charles East stuns top-seed Geneva
St. Charles East took its first lead early in the second quarter Tuesday against No. 1 seed Geneva in the Class 4A Bartlett sectional semifinals.
The Vikings had almost three quarters to take back control of the game, and do to the Saints what they had in a pair of double-digit regular season victories.
But the Saints had the answer -- often provided by senior guard Torrie Kortan -- for every one of Geneva's runs. The Vikings never regained the lead, and fourth-seed St. Charles East held on for a 43-42 upset win over a tradition-rich program that has caused them plenty of frustration through the years.
"I told them your moms and dads came to support you. Everyone else came to watch you lose," said Saints coach Josh Foster, who took over the team in January. "Let's go out there and ruin people's night. That's why we came was to ruin someone's night, and we'll try to ruin someone else's night on Thursday."
That would be Wheaton North (22-7), another DuKane Conference rival who St. Charles East (21-6) will play for the sectional championship. The teams split this season.
Like her new coach, Kortan never lost confidence despite the lack of regular season success against Geneva.
"We knew if we put pressure on them they would eventually fold because usually they are never down like that," said Kortan, who led the Saints with 16 points.
"Everyone always just sees the name on their shirt and gives them the game. We didn't give them the game this time. Last two times we played them we shot ourselves in the foot. I feel in the end tonight it was us making more hustle plays. We wanted it more I feel like."
Geneva (25-5) had won 21 of its last 22 games including 14 in a row. That streak included 77-64 and 68-52 wins over the Saints.
The Vikings didn't come close to that offensive output Tuesday. Caroline Madden banked in a 3-pointer to give Geneva a 5-0 lead to start the game -- then they missed their next 16 from beyond the arc. The Vikings shot just 26.2% (16 for 61) from the field and also hurt themselves by making just 7 of 14 free throws.
"That's something we normally are good at," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said of the 3-point misses. "We are good at getting to the rim and we are good at kicking it out and hitting the 3. They just weren't falling. We didn't shoot well at the free-throw line. You give up 7 points there in a close game and it's huge."
Trailing 11-6 after one quarter, the Saints scored the first seven points of the second quarter. Kortan's steal and assist to sophomore Alexis Maridis for a layup put St. Charles East up 13-11 in what turned out to be the only lead change of the game.
Cali Perez opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer for the Saints to make it 25-16, their biggest lead. Geneva turned up its defensive pressure, and after not forcing a single turnover in the first half, got 11 in the second.
That helped the Vikings pull even at 27-27 on Zosia Wrobel's layup after a steal and assist by Rilee Hasegawa. Kortan answered with a conventional 3-point play and then a 3-point shot as the Saints took a 33-31 lead to the fourth quarter.
Geneva tied the game twice in the fourth, the final time when Cassidy Arni finally ended the Vikings' 3-point drought with a corner 3 to make it 37-37 with 2:14 to go.
Emma Yakey immediately put the Saints up again with a long 3-pointer of her own on a Kortan assist. Lexi DiOrio split free throws for a 41-37 lead at 1:18. Arni's drive brought the Vikings within 41-39, and they fouled Kortan with :17.5 left for pressure free throws.
Kortan had just missed at the line moments earlier and also missed a late one in the regional final against Willowbrook. But she drained both for a two-possession lead, which proved critical when Wrobel's 3 brought Geneva within 43-42 with 4 seconds left.
The Vikings again fouled and the Saints missed, giving Arni a desperation half-court shot that was off the mark.
That miss set off a wild celebration for a Saints team that has battled through a coaching change and COVID pauses to move one win away from their first sectional title since 1987.
"I knew from the beginning of the season we were going to be really good," Kortan said. "I've been saying since I was in eighth grade we were going to go to state my senior year. The fact we pulled it off (beating Geneva) and everyone is clicking is perfect."
Even though Geneva outrebounded the Saints 40-31, Perez did her part with 13 rebounds to go with 9 points. Maridis and Yakey both added 6 points.
Arni led Geneva with 16 points and 7 rebounds. Wrobel, Geneva's only senior starter, added 13 points and 8 rebounds, and Leah Palmer pulled down 15 rebounds with her 6 points.
"This (postseason) is a grind," Meadows said. "You have to forget you beat them twice. That's the mentality I think our kids had. We didn't even talk about that this week. That's not where we were mentally. We just really, truly struggled offensively."