For the second straight season, the dream of a Class 4A girls state basketball championship ended for the Edwardsville Tigers on the court at Redbird Arena.
Lombard Montini seniors Aaliyah Patty and Lindsey Jarosinski combined for 26 points, and the Lady Broncos' defense held the Tigers' offense in check in a 37-30 semifinal win Friday.
Beaten 37-35 by Edwardsville in the state semifinals a year ago, Montini (34-2) took the lead in the opening two minutes and never trailed as the 6-foot-5 Jarosinski and the 6-2 Patty dominated in the post. Headed to Ohio State, Patty led the way with 15 points. Jarosinski, a Wake Forest recruit, added 11 points and eight rebounds.
"We just needed to get the ball in the post and let the bigs go to work,'' Montini guard Samantha Mitchell said.
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The win lifts Montini into its fifth state-title game and first since 2014. Coach Jason Nichols' team will take on defending state champion Geneva at 7:15 p.m. Saturday. Edwardsville (30-1) will play Maine West in the third-place game at 5:30 p.m.
Geneva defeated Edwardsville 41-40 in the state-title game a year ago. Nichols, who has led Montini to four state championships and over 450 wins in his 15 years at the school, was exhausted following the game.
"You work with the kids for months and you see the amount of time they put in wanting to get here with the hope of winning a state title. We came up short last year up here and these seniors were not going to lose this time,'' Nichols said following the game.
"This team has grown up since last year. We had a game plan tonight and the girls stuck to that game plan.''
Montini took leads of 21-15 at halftime and 30-23 after three quarters. But with the pressure mounting for two of the top programs in the state, defense prevailed in the first 3:38 seconds of the fourth quarter. One of two all-staters on the Tigers' roster, senior Kate Martin, closed the gap to 31-25 with a 12-foot jumper.
But a little more than a minute later, guard Ilysse Pitts hit a 3-pointer and following a Tigers' turnover, Jarosinski scored on a 5-footer to make the score 36-25 with 1:43 left.
"Sometimes the shots fall and sometimes they don't," emotional Edwardsville coach Lori Blade said. "For the most part I didn't think we forced anything until late in the game when we were getting a little desperate. We did a pretty good job all night.
"Their bigs (Patty and Jarosinski) did what they had to do and they denied us inside. I'm still proud of my kids. They fought until the end."
Martin, who added six rebounds and three steals, said she knew it would be tough.
"State semifinals, final four, four great teams, you know it's going to be tough,'' Martin said. "Now, hopefully we can regroup and end the season on a good note Saturday.''
Edwardsville will be honored at 12:30 p.m. Sunday with a reception at the high school. The team will be greeted in Marine and escorted to the high school.