Geneva pulls out win in marquee matchup vs. Benet

Benet and Geneva will always be linked together in Illinois girls basketball history.

Over the past decade, in Class 4A, the Redwings and Vikings are considered royalty in the sport.

Both teams recently won their first state title in program history, and doubled their pleasure with back-to-back championships.

Again this season, the Redwings and Vikings are among the top teams in contention for a 4A state title.

Elite coaching, strong defense, a deep and balanced roster and several go-to players are all aspects that both programs possess this season. Ironically, the Redwings and Vikings haven't played each other in at least six years.

But they finally hooked up on Wednesday in a highly anticipated matchup - and they didn't disappoint.

The Vikings pulled ahead in the final minutes to post a 59-53 win over Benet in the semifinals of the Morton College Girls Basketball Christmas Tournament in Cicero.

The Vikings (11-3) showed what makes them so tough to defend, spreading the scoring out among several players. Cassidy Arni and Leah Palmer both scored 15 points and Zosia Wrobel added 14. Numerous Vikings, including Lauren Slagle (7 points) and Rilee Hasegawa (5 points), made key baskets.

Arni, a junior, scored 4 points in the final 72 seconds, highlighted by a strong drive to the basket and a left-handed lay-in. Arni, who has offers from Lewis and San Francisco, added 2 free throws with 8.2 seconds left. The Vikings will play the winner of the Fremd-Marist game in the championship game at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday.

"This is a big win," Arni said, averaging 13.3 points, 6 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.6 steals in her first 11 games through Monday's play.

"Lately, I've been making my shots. (Benet) is an aggressive team, and we had to be aggressive. We had to bring energy. I think this is a big step for us. It was a great win, and helps us realize how good we can be. We're a young team and can build a lot off this."

Palmer also got into the act late in the game, scoring a basket off a set play with 1:35 left to give the Vikings a 53-31 lead. She swished 2 free throws with 26.5 left to push the lead to 57-53.

"This showed how good we can be when we play as a team," Palmer said. "We played well. We're starting to play together and make good passes."

Benet (13-2) nearly pulled out the win on the strength of big games from Morgan Demos and Lenee Beaumont. Demos, who was averaging 12.5 points and had 114 rebounds in Benet's first 13 games, finished with a game-high 25 points. Beaumont had 18 points.

"We had a hard loss earlier this season and bounced back, and we have a lot of season left, so we want to make it far in the state tournament," Beaumont said. "How we respond is important. We have to defend better. They had a lot of talented players."

Said Benet coach Joe Kilbride: "The reason we're here is to figure out where we're at and what we need to get better at. Credit Geneva, they shot the ball really well. Demos was awesome and Beaumont made some shots. We just need to figure out where else we're going to get it, and we have to guard."

The Redwings stormed out to a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter following a 3-pointer by Margaret Temple and a basket by Demos. But the Vikings woke up from their early doldrums with spirited play on defense. Hasegawa disrupted Benet's flow with her energy on defense and shooting. The 5-foot-2 Hasegawa played big in Geneva's comeback, drilling a 3-pointer to open the scoring in the second quarter.

Six minutes later, Hasegawa scored in the paint to slice the deficit to 26-23, then picked up a key defensive rebound amid several players, feeding Palmer for an open 3-pointer that tied the game at 26-all. Thirty seconds after Palmer's 3, Arni canned a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to help send the Vikings into intermission with a 29-26 lead.

Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said her team relished playing Benet.

"We haven't played Benet in a long time," Meadows said. "We never match up. We haven't played them in state or sectionals and always in different places. It was a fun game. We showed we're not riding off one or two kids."

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