WILMINGTON — Seneca led top-seeded Aurora Christian for most of Thursday's Class 2A Wilmington Girls Basketball Regional championship game, but the Eagles managed to lead when it mattered.
Aurora Christian defeated the Lady Irish 49-43 in what was a two-point game with as little as 20 seconds left to play. The Eagles won their first-ever regional title and move onto next week's Somonauk Sectional.
Seneca bows out at 16-18 overall, but it led at the end of the first and second quarters and went back ahead early in the fourth. Not until Natasha Brown made a putback basket with 2:59 to play did the Eagles go ahead to stay. Seneca was held scoreless for more than half of the fourth quarter — a span that streched from a Danielle Hauch layup with with 6:21 left until Molly Novotney made two free throws with 1:44 to play.
"I told the girls, we played great for three and a half quarters. The last four minutes were tough," Seneca coach Barb Beck said. "They're a very, very athletic team, and it got to be pick your poison in how we defended them. Even if we collapsed and took away those driving lanes, they have some great shooters. And for us, we just couldn't get a layup to fall."
Early in the game, one Seneca player — senior guard Chelsie McCormick — had little trouble getting anything to fall. McCormick scored 10 points in the first quarter and seven more in the second, helping the Lady Irish lead 12-6 and 25-18 at the end of each. At halftime, she was 6-for-8 from the field and 3-for-3 from three-point land.
In the second half, as the Eagles made her the focus of their defense, McCormick was held to just one point. She still finished with a game-high 18 points.
"They were just face-guarding, but I probably should have shot more," McCormick said of the second half. "I don't know. I guess it was just a regional championship game, and I guess I just had opportunities to shoot. I didn't feel like I was forcing them. And they were going in."
Though Aurora Christian closed the Lady Irish out in the final few minutes, its third quarter may have been as important to the outcome. The Eagles scored 20 points during the quarter on 8-for-13 shooting and held Seneca to 12 points and 4-for-13 accuracy.
Neither team did much scoring early in the fourth, as the Hauch layup and the Brown putback were the only baskets during the first 5:59. Four Kristen Madsen free throws and another Brown basket in the final two minutes more than offset Novotney, who had all of Seneca's four points during that time.
"Coach said to leave it all on the court tonight, and right down to the end, I thought we did that. We left everything out there," Novotney said. "Every girl, even the ones that just got in at the end, brought everything they had tonight. I couldn't be prouder of our effort."
Novotney and Hauch each finished with six points and seven rebounds for Seneca, with Hauch adding five steals.