Benet digs out of early hole, but falls short to O'Fallon in state final thriller
NORMAL -- Lenee Beaumont slowly walked backed down the court, a solitary figure alone in her thoughts after her last shot.
Beaumont willed Benet to a gutsy comeback from what was a nightmare of a start to the Class 4A final for the Redwings. Just like she willed her team to state through an unusually challenging season by Benet standards.
The dream of a state championship was not to be -- but what an effort to get there.
Beaumont, Benet's senior guard and an Indiana recruit, capped off her sensational career and playoff run with 27 points, leading a comeback from 15 points down in the first half.
But she missed potential shots for the win in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, and the first overtime, and a 3-point shot for the tie in the final possession of double overtime.
O'Fallon, behind All-Stater Shannon Dowell's 25 points, emerged with a 62-57 win over Benet in double overtime in the Class 4A final at CEFCU Arena to win its first state championship.
"I said on Friday that this team is resilient, and today was an example of how we just continue to battle. It doesn't matter how many we were down, we just continued to battle until the final horn," Beaumont said. "To be in this game was super crazy. Obviously we're disappointed, we worked all season to be here, but unfortunately some shots didn't go our way."
O'Fallon senior guard Jailah Pelly, who scored 12 of her 16 points in the second half and overtimes, gave her team the lead for good at 58-56 with a driving layup with 2:27 left in the second overtime.
Benet (25-8) had won fantastic finishes twice this week in the final seconds. Beaumont assisted Lindsay Harzich's game-winning layup in supersectionals. Samantha Trimberger hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds left in Friday's semifinal to beat Geneva.
Unfortunately for Benet, the third time was not the charm.
"A couple bounces either would have gone, we had a few missed layups, I felt like [O'Fallon], they got every bounce on the other end. It's unfortunate," Beaumont said. "It's very unfortunate. I hate losing, especially in the state championship game."
O'Fallon (34-4) scored the first 10 points of the game, and it was 23-8 two minutes into the second quarter. O'Fallon made 83% of its field goals up to that start.
But Benet tweaked its zone a bit, and got it to 27-20 by halftime.
"It wasn't a magical thing. We took it one possession at a time," Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. "We started changing things a little bit. We stuck with our plan and changed things up a bit."
The momentum swing continued into the second half.
Down 31-24, Benet surged ahead with an 11-0 run. Beaumont's three-point play started it, and she hit a spinning shot in the lane to tie it.
Trimberger, who scored 13 points, gave Benet its first lead, 33-31, with 1:36 left in the third quarter on a hook and Beaumont followed with a score in transition.
"This team has a ton of heart," Trimberger said. "We kind of came together at halftime and said we want this so badly, let's leave it all on the floor."
Beaumont, as she has all postseason, led the way with nine of her 27 points in the third quarter.
"She's been carrying us, she carried us through two overtimes today and it almost got it done," Kilbride said.
A back-and-forth ensued, with the two teams trading the lead six times over the final four minutes of regulation. Emilia Sularski's 3-pointer put Benet up 50-48 with 1:16 left in regulation, but after a Benet missed layup Dowell hit two free throws with 17.3 seconds left to tie it.
Two free throws each by Beaumont and Sularski gave Benet a 54-51 lead with 2:01 left in the first overtime. Dowell, again, answered with a tying 3-pointer with 2:01 left.
"At the end of the day, it was a very competitive game. We put on a show," Beaumont said. "I'm incredibly proud of this team."
Beaumont, after leading Benet to fourth place in Class 4A as a junior, brought them back in a season of unusual adversity for the program.
The Redwings lost seven regular-season games, most in Kilbride's tenure, with his first three-game losing streak.
But Beaumont willed them to within a shot of winning the program's first state title since going back-to-back in 2015 and 2016.
"It's been going on all year. We've had a lot of ups and downs," Beaumont said. "Some teams crumble but I feel we're the exact opposite. To come back from that deficit is incredible."
So was the player that led Benet there.
"I told her before the game we got here because of you. That is absolutely the case," Kilbride said. "She's a phenomenal player and an even better person. I'm incredibly proud of her, and all these kids. For us to come battle back shows the guts of these kids, their toughness and resilience."