ADDISON – Janie McCloughan stepped to the line with eight-tenths of a second left in Tuesday’s IHSA Class 4A Addison Trail Sectional semifinal needing to make one of two free throws to send Geneva to Thursday’s championship game.
The first free throw was, frankly, a brick.
“The first one was just pure nerves,” McCloughan admitted. “I’m so prepared for that kind of stuff. When the nerves get in your head, it’s hard to get them out, but I totally knew I could do it and I just had to totally believe in myself.”
That showed on the second free throw, which McCloughan converted to give the Vikings a 55-54 upset victory over Wheaton Warrenville South, the No. 1 seed in the sectional.
McCloughan was at the line because she was fouled, securing an offensive rebound after a missed shot by Grace Loberg, who had provided some heroics of her own in the frantic final minutes of the fourth quarter.
After DePaul-bound Meghan Waldron (19 points) hit a shot from the right elbow with 3:05 to play to put the Tigers (28-4) up 51-50, Loberg made a pair of free throws to give the lead back to Geneva. Then, with 1:33 remaining on the clock, Loberg somehow willed the ball into the hoop with three defenders draped all over her.
“It was incredible,” McCloughan said. “I don’t even know if that was meant to be a shot, but it worked.”
Even Loberg, a 6-foot-2 freshman, wasn’t exactly sure what happened on the play.
“I just knew I had to get it up before I traveled,” she said. “I just kind of threw it and it went in.”
Loberg scored 19 points and pulled down six rebounds. Her strong presence inside forced Wheaton Warrenville South to put Waldron on her defensively for most of the second half. When Waldron picked up her third foul with 4:13 to play, the Tigers couldn’t risk losing their top offensive threat and had to guard Loberg with other players.
While Loberg was a factor throughout the contest, it was Geneva’s outside shooters who made the difference early. Playing in the home of the Blazers, the Vikings (25-5) came out blazing away from 3-point range in the first half, hitting on 6 of 8 shots from beyond the arc. Sidney Santos (eight points) drilled two and Morgan Seberger connected on four, scoring 12 of her 15 points in the opening 16 minutes.
Seberger understood the importance of getting off to fast start after Wheaton Warrenville South scored the first 16 points in the sectional meeting between the two teams last year.
“We always want to start off really well,” Seberger said. “We want to push it from the tip. … Once you hit that [first] shot, you just keep going. You just have the confidence that the next shot is going in and the one after that.”
Geneva led by 12 points twice, late in the second quarter and early in the third, but the Tigers were much more physical in the second half, particularly crashing the offensive boards, and began to chip away at the deficit. They eventually took a 42-40 lead at the end of the third quarter on a shot by Melinda Franke from the left baseline.
“We went out with a fight,” Wheaton Warrenville South coach Rob Kroehnke said. “We didn’t lay down. We fought back. We took it to them.”
Senior Michaela Loebel, who has seen limited action this season because of injury, hit a 3 to put Geneva back in front early in the fourth and also scored on a quick drive to the basket to help stem the Tigers’ momentum.
“That’s what’s good about this team,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “I feel like they really believe they can play with anybody. … They’re gamers.”
After finally taming the Tigers on the third try in as many years of post-season play, the Vikings will try to beat Batavia on the third try this season Thursday night when the two teams meet in the championship game.