BLOOMINGTON | Marian Catholic girls basketball coach Annie Byrne gave her senior captain Megan Walsh a big bear hug and these words: “I told you we would get there.”
It was a reminder of an early season promise. And that promise was made good Monday night as the Spartans pulled away from Peoria Richwoods in the second half for a 56-37 triumph in the Class 4A Illinois Wesleyan Supersectional at Shirk Center.
The victory gives the Spartans (31-1) a trip to Bloomington-Normal on Friday for a state semifinal game at Redbird Arena on Illinois State’s campus. Marian faces Whitney Young, which won 61-60 in overtime over Bolingbrook. Game time is 8:15 p.m.
It is Marian’s first state berth since 2007 and the first trip for Walsh and her teammates.
“I can’t believe it,” said Walsh, who finished with a game-high 13 points while negotiating most of the second half with four fouls. “This means everything. I’ve tried for three years to get downstate. Just unbelievable.”
In a game marred by 41 fouls and 35 turnovers, it was Walsh who collected her fourth foul at the 5:42 mark of the third quarter. Byrne brought her to the bench, but didn’t leave her there long. Walsh was re-inserted into the lineup with 4:36 left in the third quarter.
“There are a lot of people who think I’m crazy for a lot of reasons,” Byrne said. “But she’s my gamer. She’s the most experienced, a three-year starter. I just have to trust her. I knew in that moment she would make the right decisions.”
That she did, collecting six rebounds and blocking two shots in addition to her scoring and inside presence.
The Spartans’ foul problems stemmed from their smothering defensive pressure, but it also forced Richwoods (26-7) into 11 of 48 shooting (23 percent) for the game.
“Their defense was tenacious,” first-year Richwoods coach Heather Cassady said. “We weren’t able to get many transition buckets like we normally do. They were just in up in our face and their ball pressure was amazing.”
Marian built a 25-15 halftime lead, capped by a steal and 15-foot runner at the horn by sophomore point guard Teniya Page, who finished with nine points and three assists.
“‘T’ is such a phenomenal player,” Walsh said. “She keeps her head in the game at all times. That was a big basket that really picked us up.”
The Spartans held Richwoods to two baskets in the third quarter until guard Brenna Detra hit a runner of her own at the third-quarter horn to cut the Marian lead to 34-25. That was the only bucket of the game for Detra, who averages nearly 13 points per game.
Walsh opened the fourth quarter with a running scoop shot that started a 14-6 run to begin the fourth quarter as Marian went 12 of 16 from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
Ashton Millender had 12 points, while Kauai Bradley led the Spartans with eight rebounds.
“We had the worst season in my eight years at 21-11 last season,” Byrne said. “The players decided they would stay together all spring and summer to work really hard to get to where they wanted to be and that’s the final four.”