Conant stuns St. Charles East in closing seconds

Asha Cobb felt she had nothing to lose.

Considering the past few weeks the Conant junior guard dealt with, making a go-ahead 3-pointer, plus making the ensuing free throw with 37.6 seconds left off an inbound pass, meant everything.

“I recently came off a concussion,” Cobb, the Cougars junior guard said following their 49-45 victory over St. Charles East in the Class 4A regional semifinal on Tuesday. “This is my first game back, and the support of my teammates and my coaches, it really meant a lot to me they were all [telling me]: ‘You can take this shot.'”

Cobb said she missed the previous three games with the concussion. Prior to the injury, she battled an ankle injury and missed another four, then returned for a half before sustaining the head injury.

“It means a lot to me,” said Cobb, who finished with 13 points. “I knew I could do it. But, it really just showed on the court. Along with all the support from trainers and coaches, it really sparked it.”

Ten seconds prior to Cobb's pivotal moment, Saints guard Emma Yakey went 1 for 2 at the free-throw line to inch St. Charles East to a 42-40 lead with 43 seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Conant sophomore guard Aria Mazza missed a 3-pointer, but it was eventually rebounded by Kanna Bradarich, allowing coach Todd Strauch to call a timeout with 39 seconds left.

Off the inbound, Cobb shook loose off to the right, banked in the 3-pointer and was fouled by Saints guard Lexi DiOrio. Cobb converted the free throw to put the Cougars up 44-42 with 37.6 seconds left. Saints guard Corrine Reed missed a 1 and 1, and Cougars guard Lauren Fricke converted both free throws to push the lead to four with 26 seconds left.

After a deep Yakey 3-pointer missed, Mazza hit two free throws for a 48-42 cushion with 12.8 seconds remaining. Yakey eventually hit a 3 with 4.1 seconds left, but Mazza finished it off with a free throw with .4 seconds left to stun the defending regional champion Saints.

“We're really happy to have her back, obviously,” Strauch said. “She was playing really well before she got hurt, too. Then, she goes down. She didn't really practice much either, so we really didn't know what we were going to get. At some point, you got to just trust your players and hope they come out ready to go, and she sure did.

“When she's been in the lineup, she's been great all year, so obviously our guards are the focal point of our team. Mikayla Nowicki had three charge attempts,” Strauch continued. “Kristina Tierney comes in and rebounds. Kanna is coming back from an ACL [injury], comes out and is just active. Really, everybody chipped in tonight. That's what we've been trying [to do] all year.”

Conant (11-15) will now vie for its first regional title since 2015 on Friday vs. Geneva. The Vikings (26-3) cruised to a 65-25 victory over Bartlett in the first regional semifinal. Tipoff for Friday's final is at 7 p.m.

Mazza had 16 points, while Fricke had 13 points to pace Conant.

The Saints (10-19) appeared to be in line for a potential victory, thanks to a crafty Hannah Masud layup after a dump-pass from DiOrio to give them the 41-40 lead with 1:51 left. The Cougars, though, had other plans for Friday night.

“It's not what we wanted, but this whole season, if we didn't have bad luck, we'd have no luck at all,” Saints coach Josh Foster said. “I can't tell you how many banked-in 3s I've seen all year. [Cobb] banked it in from the corner. I was like: ‘Well, that about sums it up.'

“We'd like to see more execution on defense. [Conant] runs a lot of off-ball screens — a lot of off-ball screens we prepared for in practice. We just missed a couple of them and then [Cobb], give her credit, she made some big shots.”

Masud turned in an excellent final game to close her senior season with 17 points and six rebounds, all while chasing Mazza around on defense for the majority of the game. Yakey had 10 points and five rebounds, and DiOrio had nine points and six rebounds.

“ ... She was really big for us this year,” Foster said of Masud, who suffered a season-ending knee injury as a sophomore and had limited minutes as a junior. “Coming back as a senior that hadn't played, first year starting and then somebody who is more of an offensive player; I asked her: ‘You're going to have to guard the best offensive player. You're going to have the toughest assignment, it's going to be full-court and you're going to take them the whole time.' I can't say enough about how well she has played.

“About as well, no matter what I said, she was coachable,” Foster continued. “She had the toughest job every single game. She would still put up points on the offensive end, rebound the ball and guard, guard, guard. It showed.”

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