Dominating on the glass and executing on both ends of the floor, Hillcrest seemed to be in total control of Thursday’s Class 3A Rich East Regional final against Rich South.
Then, suddenly, the Hawks weren’t.
Rich South began beating the Hawks to all the loose balls and wreaking havoc defensively, cutting what had been a 16-point deficit down to five.
“I felt like I was Jack in the movie ‘Titanic’ when he’s standing at the top of the ship when it starts to sink,” Hillcrest coach John Maniatis said.
The Hawks regained their composure just in time, though, getting key defensive stops late and knocking down free throws to seal a 56-48 win in Park Forest.
“We were able to find a window and escape the ship,” Maniatis said.
Tanzania Sherrill scored 16 points and Shayla Joyner had 14 points and nine rebounds for the Hawks (23-4), who won their fifth regional title in the last six years and avenged last season’s regional final loss to the Stars.
Hillcrest will meet the winner of Friday’s Bishop McNamara-Peotone game in the Lincoln-Way West Sectional semifinals.
Dasia Evans (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Tierra Webb (14 points) paced Rich South, which finished 17-10.
In a sequence that epitomized the second half, Webb came up with a steal then buried a three-pointer on the Stars’ third chance of the ensuing possession to pull her team within 51-46 with 2:18 left.
Rich South scored just two points the rest of the way, though, as Hillcrest – which committed 10 fourth-quarter turnovers – took care of the ball late. The biggest bucket came from Joshulyn Shepard (9 points), who scored inside for a 54-46 lead with 68 seconds to go.
“We were nervous when they came back,” Sherrill said. “But we knew we were capable of winning this game. We just had to slow down, mentally and physically.”
Led by Joyner, Hillcrest owned a 28-12 rebounding advantage in the first half, scoring often on second and third chances on the way to a 31-19 halftime lead.
It was 40-24 midway through the third and 43-30 after three before Rich South rallied behind eight fourth-quarter points from Tierney Lockett (11 points).
“We talked before the game about heart and desire,” Rich South coach Brian Mays said. “’How bad do you want it?’ I wish we would have had a bit more of that in the first half, but we could have laid down in the second half and we left everything on the floor.”
In the end, though, it was revenge for Hillcrest.
“We waited 371 days for this to make up for them beating us in the regional final last year,” Maniatis said. “It was a long wait.”