Rolling Meadows marches on
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As the state-ranked Rolling Meadows girls basketball team prepared for the Class 4A Libertyville sectional last Saturday, music was blasting on the speaker system as the Mustangs went through a practice scrimmage in its own gym.
"That really helps," said Mustangs junior forward Jenny Vliet. "That's what sounded like here in the gym. It's really loud."
Vliet quietly went about her business Thursday night in the championship game against No. 2-seeded Fremd.
Amid a late fourth-quarter rally by the Vikings, she made four huge free throws which helped the top-seeded Mustangs put away a 59-50 victory for the biggest win in the program's postseason history.
Meadows won its first sectional and has advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time.
The Mustangs (28-3) will face Evanston (27-3) in the Niles West supersectional on Monday night in Skokie.
Meadows junior Jackie Kemph followed Vliet's 4 free throws with four more in the final 27.5 seconds to ice the Mustangs' historic win.
The only other time Meadows had played in a sectional was 2003 under coach Pat O'Connell.
A little more than two weeks ago, first-year Mustangs coach Ryan Kirkorsky watched his team suffer its only loss to a Class 4A team when Fremd edged the Mustangs 66-63 in overtime for the Mid-Suburban League championship. The Mustangs led by 12 points late in the third quarter of that game.
"I had to redeem myself from that game," said Vliet, who had a game-high 11 rebounds with her 13 points. "I missed some very key free throws that game. But these were more important. And my focus was on defense. I try to do the little things."
As usual, Kemph was doing some big things on offense with her drives to the basket and passes inside.
"We weren't going to let that happen again," Kemph said of seeing a big lead slip away. "We were ready for their runs this time, and it was just awesome defense."
Kemph finished with a game-high 18 points and 5 assists.
"That because of my teammates," said the Mid-Suburban East Player of the Year. "I have incredible players on the wings so the defense has to worry about them and that opens things up."
Junior forward Ashley Montanez (5 rebounds) added 10 points and junior guard Alexis Glasgow had 7 points with 3 rebounds. Junior guard Sami Kay got the Mustangs' offense going with a curl layup to start the game.
"All we talked about from that last game with Fremd was that as much as it hurt, we had to learn from our mistakes," Kirkorsky said. "The players and the coaching staff all had to make adjustments and I thought that was difference in coming out on top this time."
After a 2-2 tie, Meadows was on top the rest if the way, leading by as much as 17-6 with 2:13 left in the first quarter.
But just as they did in the title game, the Vikings kept coming back.
They got to within 19-16 in second quarter when Haley Gorecki (team-high 15 points, 7 rebounds) drove for a 6-footer in the lane.
Allie Kemph (Jackie's twin) hit a big 3-pointer from the left side to give the Mustangs a 33-18 lead late in the first half.
But Fremd charged back to within 39-30 after three quarters and things got interesting in the final two minutes when Ashley McConnell (14 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists) hit a 3-pointer to make it 49-42 with 1:57 left.
A free throw by Marilyn Lortz (3 rebounds) and two more by McConnell (15 points) pulled Fremd to within 49-45 with 1:32 left.
But that's as close as the MSL champs would get.
"Unfortunately, on this big stage, we didn't play one of our best games," said Fremd coach Dave Yates, who also received a nice offensive game from senior Bernie William (10 points, 2 assists). "But I could not have been more proud of how our kids fought back. We had a spurt at the start of the third quarter and another in the fourth quarter where we gave ourselves a chance to win. We did great things on defense. We just couldn't get going on offense. We were our own worst enemy."
After Vliet hit 2 big free throws to extend the lead back to 6, the Vikes missed a 3-pointer and Meadows came back down the floor in a hurry with Montanez flipping a pass to Glasgow for a fastbreak layup that made it 53-45.
Moments later, Fremd was called for an offensive foul and the Mustangs took advantage when Vliet made her next 2 free throws with 38 seconds left for a 55-45 lead.
"We're used to coming back in games," said McConnell, the MSL West Player of the Year. "We've been in that situation before but we just didn't have enough left this time."
Fremd coach Dave Yates watched his Vikings win the most games (26) and advance the deepest of any of his teams in six seasons.
"I could not be prouder of this group," he said. "To prepare and deal with game of this pressure, these kids showed their amazing character. It's been a blast to coach them."
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