JACKSONVILLE — With about four minutes left Monday, Tessa Leman appeared headed for a breakaway layup. Instead, the official called her apparent steal a kicked ball.
"That would've been huge, but sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way," said the Hornets' 5-foot-8 senior guard.
No matter. By then Leman had already secured a double-double and her Eureka High School girls basketball team was all but assured of its first berth in the final four.
Leman finished with game highs of 29 points and 15 rebounds in powering the No. 4-ranked Hornets to a 54-47 win over No. 5 Pleasant Plains in the Class 2A Illinois College Super-Sectional at Sherman Gymnasium in the Bruner Center.
"My teammates were helping me, giving me great passes and we were getting turnovers," said the West Point-bound Leman, who passed Jordan Prosser as the all-time leading scorer in school history. "When it's this time of the year, you do whatever you have to do."
Setting the school record for wins, Eureka improved to 28-3 and will face Chicago Harlan (25-7) in Friday's 5:30 p.m. state semifinal at Redbird Arena.
"It means everything," said the Hornets' Natalie Bardwell, who joins Leman and Sydney Silverthorn as Eureka's three seniors. "We've had this goal since we were freshmen. Just the fact that we get to fill our dreams that we've been waiting for all four years, there's no words to describe it."
Bardwell admitted her team played with a little extra motivation on the one-year anniversary of the death of Wendy Parsons, a Hornets super fan who was 83 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer.
"He just was the biggest supporter last year and we miss him so much," said Bardwell, who complemented Leman with 11 points. "Knowing we have that motivation, we just want to play for him all the time. I know I considered him super close to me and a lot of other girls did as well."
Eureka managed to overcome 24 total turnovers, including 14 in the first half — and a technical foul on coach Jerry Prina that allowed Plains (29-4) to take a 29-27 lead three minutes into the third quarter.
"I was just trying to call a timeout and I came a little too far out on the floor," said Prina, whose team will make the program's first state appearance since 1988 when the field still included eight teams. "Luckily, our girls were able to pick me up, and I stayed on the bench the rest of the game.
"I'm so proud of these girls and they effort they've given the last four years. It's just incredible to get to this point."
The Cardinals received 18 points from Caroline Jachino and 12 off the bench from Aysa Smith. Jachino made four 3-pointers as Plains hit nine shots from long range compared to Eureka's two.
"You've got to give them credit. They play fast and they're a great team," said Leman. "We had to battle every minute."
Leman scored 12 of her points in the third quarter as the Hornets started to pull away from a halftime tie. Her three-point play with 4:32 left in the third put the Hornets up 32-29 and they never looked back.
"I know that the bigger the game gets, the better Tessa plays and it showed tonight," said Bardwell. "She stepped up and was the Tessa that we all know best. We've been playing together for 10 or close to 12 years now. It's been an amazing ride and I wouldn't want it with anyone else."
Leman's final points came on a three-point play that made it 48-39 with 2:07 to play, capping her 10-for-10 showing at the free-throw line.
"I'd been struggling the last few games. It was good to get back on track," she said.
An even but sloppy first half saw the teams combine for 24 turnovers. Eureka took its first lead at 4-3 on a Darby Leman jumper but a Plains 3-pointer by Grace Sinclair had the game tied at 6-all after one quarter.
Tessa Leman scored five straight points to start the second, and her putback to start a three-point play made it 16-12. But Plains regained the lead at 17-16 on a trey by Jachino.
The Hornets answered quickly with a jumper by Natalie Anderson and an inside bucket by Darby Leman, but again Plains hit from long range as Smith's 3 knotted it at 20-all going into halftime.
"We realized we needed to slow the game down," said Bardwell. "A lot of our turnovers were because we tried to speed the game up way too much."
Leman admitted the both the win and setting the school scoring mark were "exciting" but is already starting to focus on the next steps on the Hornets' journey.
"I just can't stop thinking about state this weekend," she said. "We've got more work to do. We're looking forward to it."