The Edwardsville Tigers fell a game short of perfection.
Stephanie Hart scored with five seconds left to give the Geneva Vikings a 41-40 win over Edwardsville in the Illinois Class 4A championship game at Redbird Arena on Saturday.
The Tigers entered the game 32-0 and were trying to become just the 16th of 90 previous Illinois champions to cap their title without a loss. Instead, they collected their second second-place trophy in five years.
“I told them they need to keep their perspective on what we accomplished as a team in bringing the community together. We had a great outpouring of support tonight, and that didn’t happen five years ago,” said Edwardsville coach Lori Blade. “It’s tough to be on the end of this, but a lot of teams would have quit when we got down with two minutes to play.”
Edwardsville battled back from nine points down in the first half and kept it close to the end, but the Tigers led the game a total of 17 seconds.
Their last lead came with 23 seconds left when junior Rachel Pranger scored from under the goal. She set the play up on the other end by pulling down a rebound on a missed Geneva free throw and allowing coach Lori Blade to call a timeout to set up a final shot.
Pranger’s bucket left enough time for a final Geneva possession. Hart missed two shots under the basket, but made the putback fall with less than two seconds left.
“That’s a tough board there at the end, but it’s part of it. It’s unfortunate when you put so much blood, sweat and tears into it. It just makes it that much tougher when something like this happens.”
The state championship was the first in Geneva’s history. The Vikings finished the season 29-4.
The first half followed a script the Tigers played out in their semifinal win over Montini Catholic on Friday.
Edwardsville fell behind nine points after Stephanie Hart scored on a 3-pointer and 12-foot short jump shot. Geneva also forced 10 first-half turnovers — five off steals — with its full-court pressure.
“We turned it over a couple times with their press, which we knew was coming,” Blade said. “Last night it was the first quarter, and tonight, to be honest with you, it was three quarters. You can’t do that in a championship game.”
But Edwardsville got into the bonus early in the second quarter, forcing the Vikings to back off their pressure. The Tigers responded with a 9-0 run sparked by Silvey’s 3-point basket to tie the game 23-23 at the half.
Geneva took its biggest lead of the second half, 36-31, when Loberg scored with 5:31 left in the game. Edwardsville didn’t lead in the second half until Pranger set up the game’s final sequence with her putback bucket with 23 seconds left.
Edwardsville senior Makenzie Silvey capped her Edwardsville career with 17 points and five rebounds. Pranger finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Geneva senior Grace Loberg, who has signed to a letter of intent to play volleyball at Wisconsin, scored 17 points and pulled down nine rebounds for the Vikings. Hart finished with 11 points.