WILMINGTON — There really wasn't any secret what the biggest key would be in Tuesday's Class 2A sectional semifinal between Seneca and Prairie Central.
With each team using full-court pressure to harass opponents all season long, it would be the club that could withstand it the longest.
The Lady Irish were that team, despite turning the ball over 27 times, causing enough problems to advance to Thursday's Wilmington Sectional championship game against Joliet Catholic Academy with a thrilling, 50-49 triumph.
Seneca's Rita Jashari led the way with a game-high 24 points, while Madison Bromberek added 12. Mara Bruno netted six points and grabbed a game-best 15 rebounds for Seneca, with point guard Brooklyn Giertz scoring five points, to go along with eight boards, seven assists and four steals.
"This season we really haven't been pressed like that, and it was an adjustment," said Giertz. "I just told myself that I needed to stay mentally calm, no matter what. We have had a ton of practice with our pressbreak the last couple days knowing that we'd face it tonight. The biggest thing for me was staying focused.
"I'm shocked. I wanted to think we could make it this far, but now I for sure know we're where we are supposed to be."
Seneca (26-7) trailed 14-10 after the opening quarter and 20-18 at the intermission, but started surging toward victory midway into the third frame.
"I think it is still a surprise to us. I mean, we have been the underdogs seed-wise since the second game of regionals," said Jashari "Like Coach said after the game, right now every team is a good team, but who has the biggest heart?
"We are such an unselfish team, and we always have each other's backs. If we make a mistake, someone else picks us up. That's just how we play."
Trailing 27-26 just under the five-minute mark, the Lady Irish went on an 8-0 run with a pair of hoops from Bruno and one each by Bromberek and Jashari. A left-corner triple by Jashari and a long two-pointer by Giertz had Seneca up 39-35 heading to the fourth.
Prairie Central (28-6) closed to within 39-37 in the opening two minutes of the fourth, but a trey and short jumper by Jashari around four straight points by Cassidy Draves pushed the margin to 48-39 with 3:43 to go.
After a pair of free throws by Bromberek at 2:24, the Hawks scored the next eight points to make it a one-point game. However, the final two points came with just five seconds left, and Seneca was able to run out the clock.
"(Prairie Central) was 28-5 coming in, plays really good competition, and we knew there were going to be turnovers, but tonight I can live with every one of them," said Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle.
"The heart and effort these girls give game in and game out is unbelievable. The last three games we have played at a high level and with a tremendous energy level. I have been coaching for a long time, and I haven't seen a fight in a team like this maybe ever.
"They have really played with a chip on their shoulders."