RIVER FOREST | Three times in as many years, Seton Academy's girls basketball team walked into the super-sectional — the last two at Concordia University — with hopes of a berth in the state semifinals at Illinois State.
Three times, the Sting has gone home to South Holland without a ticket to that semifinal game and the shot at glory that accompanies it.
Monday, the roadblock in their way at the Class 2A Concordia Super-Sectional was IC Catholic. The Knights scored a 40-38 victory despite the 21 points of standout Seton senior Ebony Bailey.
Seton ends its season 19-9. IC Catholic moves on to Friday night's game against Prophetstown with a 25-6 record and a 16-game winning streak.
Bailey, sniffling as she spoke, knew exactly what cost the Sting a downstate berth.
"I think it was our defense," Bailey said. "We started the game without enough intensity."
Seton was reluctant to force the issue defensively. That allowed the Knights to barge their way to a 17-9 lead after a quarter, and a 26-15 advantage at the half, the final points gained on Grace Vitek's wide-open 8-footer just before the buzzer.
It could have been a wider margin. IC Catholic, the old Immaculate Conception, missed a handful of easy shots and still led by 11.
"The second half, we went to the man-to-man and put on a bit more pressure," Seton coach Kevin Green said, questioning his reluctance to switch from a zone earlier. "They got too big of a lead. It was a tale of two halves."
Bailey scored on a drive, cutting the deficit to five points, to start the fourth quarter, and after Vitek (10 points) answered, sophomore Danielle Bailey, Ebony Bailey's younger sister, drilled a 3-pointer, trimming it to four points. Two baskets inside by ICC center Rory Manion (10 points, 12 rebounds) made it 38-30, but Seton had one push left. When the younger Bailey scored another 3-pointer with 3:12 to play, the lead was down to three points.
It stayed there until Vitek hit a pair of free throws with 39.3 seconds left. After she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 15 seconds later, Seton's Alfatinee Boyd dropped in a 3-pointer with eight seconds left.
"We figured on playing deny defense," Ebony Bailey said.
But the Knights got the ball in and the Sting couldn't foul, denying Bailey and her cohorts the trip to the championship weekend.