The Central Cougars improbable quest for a second state championship in eight years fell six minutes short Saturday at Redbird Arena.
Senior guard Hanna Mitchell nailed three straight 3-point shots at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to help Kankakee Bishop McNamara rally from a nine-point deficit and defeat Central 55-51 in the title game of the Class 2A State Tournament.
Getting 23 points from junior Kendra Wilken, Central (31-4) led for most of the game, but fell victim to the hot shooting of Mitchell and senior all-state guard Khadaizha Sanders.
“They (McNamara) hit the shots that they didn’t hit last night. They hit them when they needed to and in a game like this you need a couple of breaks. To bank in a 3-point shot and to get four shots at the basket on one of their possessions, they got a couple breaks. To me those were the two big possessions of the game,” Central coach Nathan Rueter said. “But I can’t tell you how proud you I am of these of these girls.
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“If somebody had told me before the season that we would be playing in the state championship game I probably would have told them they were lying. To get here is an accomplishment and it just shows how hard these girls have worked to achieve what they have. I’m just very proud of this basketball team.”
Leading 23-18 at halftime, Central looked like a team on its way to the state championship when Wilken scored on an offensive putback, Grace Yaunches hit a short jumper and Alicia Book followed with anotehr jumper to give their team a 31-22 lead with 3 minutes 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
But Sanders, held scoreless in the first half after picking up three fouls in the first seven minutes, nailed six of her 19 second half points and when Mitchell hit the first of three straight 3-point jumpers, Bishop McNamara (29-4) was within 34-31 after three periods.
Mitchell then opened the fourth quarter with a second 3-point bomb, this one from deep in the left corner baseline, the scored was tied at 34.
“Hanna was a little down after yesterday whenshe thought she had a bad ballgame, but we kept talking to her all day trying to pick up her up. We just kept telling her that she was a good shooter and that when the time right she would step up an hit them,” Sanders said. “Actually, all of my teammates picked me nup in the first half when I got the three quick fouls and had to go to the bench.
“I knew they would. We’ve picked each other up all year.”
Mitchell’s third 3-point shot — this one with 7:10 to play — gave McNamara its first lead of the game at 37-34. It would never trail again.
“I’m a shooter and I got hot there for a few minutes,” Mitchell said. “It felt good to help the team.”
Bishop McNamara took the lead again at 44-41, but Yaunches got the Cougars even for the last time with a 3-point basket. Yaunches finished with 14 points.
But when Kelly Rudin and Sanders hit layups 26 seconds apart, the Cougars were down 48-44 with 3:04 remaining.
The lead grew to 54-48 before Yaunches struck again from beyond the 3-point line with 12 seconds left to cut the lead. But when Sanders hit one of two free throws with eight seconds remaining, to mkake 55-51, the Cougaers were done.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.