Geneva avenges Fremd loss, wins Morton championship
Playing against several college-bound players, Geneva senior point guard Rilee Hasegawa was an unlikely hero on Friday night.
At 5-foot-2, Hasegawa was the shortest player on the court, which included several next-level frontcourt players.
Yet, Hasegawa made four pivotal plays in the final four-plus minutes against Fremd to grab the spotlight.
Led by an impactful two-way performance from Hasegawa and 18 points by Cassidy Arni, Geneva knocked off undefeated Fremd 50-42 in the championship game of the 2nd Annual Morton College Girls Basketball Christmas Tournament.
Geneva (12-2) avenged last season's close defeat to Fremd (15-1) in the title game, won a rare Christmas tournament and gained the added bonus of beating one of the top teams in the state.
"Rilee is just so fun to watch and has so much energy," Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. "I can go back many years. I don't know if we've won a Christmas tournament in a long time. This is awesome."
Hasegawa stole the spotlight away from her more esteemed teammates and Fremd's collection of college players by playing tough on-ball defense, battling for two key rebounds late in the fourth quarter, then hitting a decisive 3-pointer, and added a vital assist.
In fact, Hasegawa made a big imprint in the win, with an offensive rebound with just under four minutes left in regulation. Several seconds later, on the same possession, she buried a 3-pointer to pad Geneva's lead to 37-32.
On Fremd's next possession, Hasegawa grabbed the defensive rebound amid a tall group of players, then drove the lane and hit Arni with a bounce pass through traffic for a lay-in for a 39-32 edge. Hasegawa, a Florida Southern College soccer recruit, also made a free throw with 39.7 ticks left.
Teammate Lauren Slagle, a Grand Valley State recruit, iced the victory with two late free throws to finish 11-of-12 on free throws for 13 points.
Hasegawa admitted she was surprised at her play against highly ranked Fremd.
"I know with all these girls that are six-foot and above that I'm able to use my quickness to get around them and make the assist," she said. "I knew when I drove, they would try and go for the block and it would leave my big girls open and I could pass it to them. I just tried to get rebounds because I knew my team needed it."
Arni, who will play at Wisconsin-Parkside next season, finished with a game-leading 18 points. She played stellar in the post against Fremd's tall frontcourt, battling for position, blocking three shots and handling a physical load to lift Geneva to a memorable midseason victory. For her consistent play in four games, Arni was named the MVP of the tournament.
"This is a big win," Arni said. "This win will get us better. I wasn't expecting (the MVP). Fremd is a big, strong and physical team. We had to be prepared. We wanted this (win) real bad because of last year."
Fremd possessed the lead for the majority of the first three quarters, in part due to a 10-point second-quarter outburst by sophomore guard Ellie Thompson.
In the fourth quarter, Fremd fell victim to foul trouble, while not registering a field goal in their first 12 fourth-quarter possessions. Kace Urlacher matched Thompson's production with 10 points. Geneva shot 27-of-35 on free throws to end Fremd's unbeaten streak.
"I felt (Geneva) out-toughed us," Fremd coach Dave Yates said, on his birthday. "They pounded us on the glass, got so many loose balls and second chances ... I don't think we were mentally focused. We didn't show up, but credit to them. (Rilee's) play (late) was a backbreaker. She also stuck that big three-pointer. Hopefully, this game makes us a better team in 2023."