Trimberger's last second free throws lift Benet over Geneva in state semifinals
NORMAL -- Samantha Trimberger chose to focus on the positive potential of an outcome, rather than the pressure of the situation.
One shot, and she'd be a hero.
The Benet senior forward did it one better, making two tiebreaking free throws with 2.4 seconds left. Trimberger's clutch shots sent Benet past Geneva 50-48 in Friday's Class 4A semifinal at CEFCU Arena and into Saturday's state championship game against O'Fallon.
"Really, at least it was a tie game," Trimberger said. "What was going through my mind was I have a chance to win us the game. Since it was a one-and-one, just make the first one so we have that lead. Once I made that first one it was a little pressure off the second one. It was great that I made both shots but quite honestly we only needed one."
Benet (25-7) won its second game of the week in the final seconds, and put behind the bad taste of last year's two losses at state.
After Trimberger split two free throws with 39.8 seconds left for a 48-46 lead, Geneva's Lauren Slagle tied it with a basket with 14 seconds remaining.
Forgoing a timeout, Benet senior guard and Indiana recruit Lenee Beaumont raced down the court, her shot at the basket rolling out. Trimberger was fouled on the loose ball, setting the stage for her late heroics.
"We practice free throws every day in practice," Trimberger said. "Just take a deep breath in and go for it."
Geneva coach Sarah Meadows has been at the other end of dramatic finishes in her last two times at state. The Vikings won back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018 on last-second shots by Stephanie Hart.
Losing on a late call and free throws, though, was tough to swallow.
"It's tough to end a game that way," Meadows said. "I felt there were two kids battling for the ball, and that's how it ends up. But it is what it is."
Beaumont was sensational once again, with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Trimberger added 10 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocks.
Leah Palmer had 13 points and 11 rebounds and Slagle 13 points and seven boards for Geneva (30-4). Cassidy Arni, who missed a heave for the win from beyond half-court as time expired, scored 12. Arni's free throws with 1:57 left in the third quarter gave Geneva its last lead at 33-31.
Beaumont collided with a Geneva defender on a drive late in the third quarter, fell to the court and gingerly walked to the sideline. She returned moments later, and went coast-to-coast to roll in a three-point play to give Benet the lead for good at 34-33 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
"Last year was disappointing, losing twice here, but having that experience -- we were the only team here back from last year, we didn't want the same outcome," Beaumont said. "We told everyone before the game we're not playing another game tonight, that's not happening."
Leah Palmer cupped hands around her face and looked with wide eyes at adoring fans with signs in the stands honoring her.
Then the Geneva junior was mobbed at midcourt like she just hit a shot to win the state title.
Palmer's 1,000th career point, the highlight of her game-high 25 points, had the Vikings jumping for joy midway through the first quarter of their eventual 72-61 win over Hersey in Friday night's Class 4A third-place game.
The milestone came on Palmer's first free throw, much to her surprise.
But not her teammates.
"I had no idea," Palmer said. "I knew I was getting close, but I didn't know that was the point. I guess I was kind of oblivious. Everybody was saying they were talking about it on the bench and I had no idea. I'm thankful to have supportive parents and fans. It's a storybook ending for sure to go out and win the last game."
Just two hours removed from a heartbreaking two-point semifinal loss to Benet in the final seconds, Geneva hardly looked like a deflated group.
The Vikings jumped out to a 7-0 lead, with players and coaches seemingly celebrating every point and big play in an energetic sideline.
Geneva (31-4) won its fifth state trophy and fourth under head coach Sarah Meadows. The Vikings ended the season with its 31st win -- the most in Meadows' 12 seasons.
Geneva's girls lingered long after collecting their trophy, posing for photos together on the court. Vikings' senior Lauren Slagle, who scored 17 points in her final game before heading off to play at Grand Valley State, said the team was energized by Palmer's early 1,000-point moment.
"It's amazing -- this is a moment that everybody wants to feel," Slagle said. "We didn't win against Benet, but we ended on a win and ended with our best friends. That's all you can ask for."
Fellow Geneva senior Cassidy Arni, who capped off a four-year varsity career with 17 points, hit a 3-pointer to put Geneva ahead for good, 36-33 midway through the third quarter.
Palmer, who will be one of two Geneva starters back next year with Caroline Madden, said she was determined to win one final game for teammates like Arni and Slagle.
"We wanted to come out and do it for the seniors and end on a win," Palmer said. "After a heartbreaking loss we wanted to pull it out and end on a good note."
Palmer figures to be Geneva's clear go-to player next year with Arni and Slagle graduating. She showcased that green light in Friday's final game.
Palmer took 23 shots, making nine. Through three quarters, she had attempted 21 of Geneva's 45 shots.
Her 3-pointer with 1:23 left in the third quarter hit rim and bounced in gave Geneva a 43-39 lead. Later, she made a driving layup for a 54-49 lead to turn away a late Hersey comeback bid.
Palmer doesn't hold a scholarship offer, but she's determined to change that and just as eager to keep up Geneva's winning ways as their go-to next season.
"I'm for sure looking forward to it. I want to have another winning season so bad," Palmer said. "I'm going to be working with the lineup of juniors and sophomores."
At the other end, Friday's late game marked the end of two fabulous Hersey careers.
Hersey senior guard Katy Eidle, a three-time All-State pick who will play collegiately at Michigan, scored a team-high 18 points.
Fittingly, the four-year varsity starter was the last Hersey girl to check out, with 1:09 left, after hitting two free throws.
Eidle in her final season led Hersey (28-10) to the program's second state trophy, knocking off No. 1-ranked Fremd along the way to Normal.
"It's incredible, it's everything we ever could have wished for. This was our goal to finish the season at Redbird and I'm proud of every single girl that played," Eidle said. "We put a lot of hard work into our season and it paid off."
Hersey coach Mary Fendley, retiring after 25 seasons and 537 wins, was in tears in reflecting on her three decades at the school.
"I guess what always comes to mind is how grateful I am for the opportunities I have had for the last 31 years at Hersey," Fendley said. "When Hersey hired me I was coaching against almost all men. The future of our area is great with more and more incredible women. I'm grateful for not only this team but all the girls I have been fortunate to coach."