In its previous three losses Hillcrest was pretty much waxed by Chicago-area powers Homewood-Flossmoor, Crete-Monee and Joliet Catholic.
Friday brought a fourth loss to another Chicago area power, Bolingbrook.
But this one had a much better shine.
The Hawks led early, led late and had a chance to tie or win it before a layup attempt at the buzzer came up short in a 62-60 loss in the semifinals of the Hillcrest Holiday Classic.
Shayla Joyner had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Tierra Sanders 11 points and 15 rebounds and Aliah Acker 12 points for Hillcrest (9-4).
Aysia Bugg tallied 19 points and seven rebounds and Cierra Stanciel 18 points and eight rebounds for Bolingbrook.
Bolingbrook (7-1) will meet Joliet Catholic Saturday for the tournament title. Hillcrest will play Marist in the third-place game.
If it wasn’t a night of celebration for the Hawks, it certainly was a night of validation.
They came out of the box strong, stunning Bolingbrook with an 11-3 start that began with a three-pointer by Tanzania Sherrill and was highlighted by crisp 6-of-6 free throw shooting.
They led for much of the second period before Bugg got hot, and the Raiders were able to claw back into a 27-26 advantage at intermission.
“We drove to the basket real well and we were very aggressive,” Acker said. “We just needed to make more free throws.”
A 29-of-53 overall reading at the line would indeed prove fatal to the Hawks, but not before a show of resilience that saw them rally from a 40-30 third-quarter deficit to go in front by as much as 48-42 early in the fourth period.
Acker’s playmaking was a big factor in Hillcrest regaining its balance, but the work under the basket by the 5-10 Joyner and 6-foot Sanders kept Bolingbrook’s second-chance opportunities to a minimum.
“We’re just trying to keep everybody off the boards and box out,” Joyner said.
Hillcrest’s last lead was at 57-55 with 3:25 remaining after a free throw by Joyner. The Raiders responded with back-to-back drives to the basket by Stanciel and Ashley Drain.
Both teams squandered chances at the line in the final minute, and when Destiny Nash made just 1 of 2 free tosses for Bolingbrook with 8.9 seconds left, the Hawks had a chance to tie or win.
Sherrill brought the ball down the right side of the court before whipping a hard pass across the paint to Sherrise Heady. Heady fumbled the ball slightly, allowing a Bolingbrook defender to close up and cause an off-balance attempt that bounced off the backboard.
“We had them on the ropes,” Hawks coach John Maniatis said. “They had an opportunity to throw the knockout at us when they had that 10-point lead, but I thought our kids showed a tremendous amount of perseverance and fortitude in coming back and taking a six-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“I think in some ways, shapes and forms tonight was a learning lesson for us. The couple of (big losses) we took early in the season, and us being able to put in the time and get our basketball legs underneath us, I think tonight showed that we can compete with anybody.”