By Randy Whalen
There were only smiles for Mother McAuley’s players.
Certainly, the Mighty Macs would have preferred to win a state championship, but they went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the nation for the better part of the game before falling short.
Maine West completed an undefeated season with a 58-46 victory over McAuley in the IHSA Class 4A state title game on Saturday, March 2 at Redbird Arena, on the campus of Illinois State University in Normal.
"Maine West is an excellent team and there were some shots that didn't fall for us," McAuley senior forward Grace Hynes said. "But we went out and left it on the floor. It's the state championship game. There's no other way you'd want to go out."
For much of the season, Maine West and McAuley were ranked as the top two teams in Illinois. The Warriors (35-0) came into the contest ranked No. 9 in the nation in the Xcellent 25 Writers Poll on MaxPreps.
By completing the season undefeated and bringing home their second ever state championship, Maine West equaled the accomplishments of the 1988 Warriors, which went 35-0 and captured the Class AA state title.
The win was the 36th straight for the Warriors, who finished third in Class 4A last season.
"It was a tough matchup as Maine West has so much size," McAuley coach Asley Luke Clanton said of the Warriors, who had four players and two starters who were 5-foot-11 or taller, compared to two players and no starters for the Mighty Macs. "They play such good defense, are long and that makes you play labor intensive. We hung with them for three quarters. then the wheels came off a bit."
Senior Rachel Kent led Maine West with 19 points. Junior guard Dylan VanFleet had 17 points and four steals, and 6-foot-4 junior forward Angela Dugalic finished with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
McAuley (34-3) set a school record for victories in a season and took home its fifth state trophy, but first in 24 years.
The Mighty Macs won the Class AA state title in 1991 and were second in 1995. Junior guard Jenna Badali led McAuley with 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals. Hynes added 12 points and eight rebounds.
"This has been so incredible," Badali said. "To be here with my best friends from the past few years and get second place in the state. We wanted to show people who we really are and it's everyone's dream to be playing here. We had nothing to lose and did our best"
Badali tied the game for the final time at 32-32 on a 3-pointer with 5:32 left in the third quarter. The Mighty Macs trailed just 37-36 after Hynes hit a 3-pointer with just under two minutes to play in the third quarter, but Maine West led 41-36 after three.
Ahead 45-40 with 6:44 to play, the Warriors pulled away with a 10-1 run for a 55-41 lead with 1:25 remaining.
"They're a gritty bunch of girls," Maine West coach Kim de Marigny said of the Mighty Macs. "They gave us one of the two toughest battles we had. We had to play the whole way through and didn't lose our composure."
Things started great for McAuley as Badali scored five straight points to open the game for a 5-0 lead. Hynes hit a 3-pointer with 2:12 to play in the opening quarter for a 12-6 lead, but the Warriors closed within 12-10 after the first quarter.
Bella Finnegan came off the bench to spark the Mighty Macs to start the second quarter. The 5-foot-11 freshman swing player scored all eight of her points in a row, including a 3-pointer that gave McAuley its last lead, 20-19, with 2:45 to play in the half.
"It felt really good," Finnegan said of contributing in the title game. "All of our fans cheering really helped me. For next season we just have to work hard and keep the same energy that we had this year."
Following Finnegan's contribution, Maine West scored seven straight. Hynes hit a pair of 3-pointers to help the Mighty Macs battle back to within 28-26 at halftime.
Trailing 30-26 senior guard Hannah Swiatek (6 points, three rebounds, two assists) hit a 3-pointer to open the second half scoring for McAuley.
In addition to Hynes and Swiatek, the rest of the Might Mac seniors were Colleen Flood, Janelle McBeth (two points), Nikki Murphy (three points, three rebounds, four assists) and Lauren Ramsey (two points, two rebounds).
"We had 13 kids that just bought in," Luke Clanton said. "I told them that we didn't always have to agree on what was being done, but if we all bought in we'd be better."
In the semifinal game March 1, McAuley defeated Benet, 48-38. Redwings junior forward Brooke Schramek scored 13 points tried to rally the Redwings in the second half as they closed a 26-19 halftime deficit to 31-30, but Benet (28-7) could never even the score.
McAuley led 33-30 after three and went on an 8-0 run to open the fourth quarter. Hynes (12 points, 15 rebounds) and Badali (21 points, six rebounds) led the way. Badali went 15-of-17 from the free throw line as the Macs made 21-of-27 from there for the game.
"I'm proud of the team," said Badali. "I'm excited about next season and hope to be back down here on this floor."