NORMAL -- The Central Catholic High School girls basketball team, adept at playing a finesse style, found itself in a bump-and-run Class 2A title game in the 34th state tournament at Redbird Arena Saturday.
The No. 1-ranked Saints absorbed every collision and dealt a few as well to hold off No. 3 Quincy Notre Dame, 64-58, for the school's sixth state team title overall, but first in girls basketball. Central has also won four state football titles and one girls track crown.
The Saints finished with a 32-1 record, setting a school record for victories in a season. The lone loss came against Eureka nine games ago when first-team all-stater Jess Reinhart was out with an injury.
The post-game jubilation on display was that of a team tired of near misses. Central's previous seven seasons had ended in losses at four sectional finals and three super-sectionals.
"I've dreamt of this moment for a long time since I was a little girl," said Central coach Debbie Coffman. "I never got the experience of playing here. These girls got us here. It's for all those girls that played before us, but never got the opportunity. They started the program."
Notre Dame (30-3), a six-time state trophy winner, had no answer for Central Catholic's Allie Norton and Reinhart, who scored 27 and 19 points, respectively.
"This feels awesome," said Reinhart, whose team forced 25 turnovers and shot a sizzling 55 percent from the field. "This is what we've been working so hard for. It's finally ours. We can say we're state champs."
"This feels amazing," added Norton, who was 9 of 13 from the field and had seven assists and four steals. "We've worked all year for this and we finally accomplished our goal."
The Lady Raiders grabbed a 6-2 lead as Karlee Gengenbacher converted three baskets from within two feet of the hoop the first 1:35. The Saints answered with a 12-0 run fueled by five QND turnovers and a pair of Allie Norton 3-pointers.
Central, which forced nine first-quarter turnovers in Friday's semifinal, coaxed the Raiders into 11 while taking a 25-12 lead.
Gengenbacher, who came in averaging 23.3 points, had 12 by the time QND pulled within 28-18 with 5:44 left in the first half. Back-to-back baskets by Emily Beoletto and Allie Norton pushed the gap to 14 points.
Norton, the Class 2A Country Financial 3-Point Showdown champion, sank 3 of 5 3-point attempts on her way to 11 first-half points.
The Raiders got two layups from Leigh McLaughlin off turnovers and a rebound basket from Gengenbacher to end the half with a 6-0 run and a 32-24 deficit.
Allie Norton opened a fast-paced third quarter with back-to-back layups before Jordan Frerichs answered for QND. Another Norton hoop made it 38-26 with 6:12 left in the period.
After a Reinhart 4-footer made it 42-31, the Raiders scored six unanswered points, the last two on Gengenbacher layups. The Saints didn't flinch as Reinhart converted another 4-footer before Allie Norton splashed in a 3-pointer to make it 47-37 with a quarter to play.
Norton's fifth 3-pointer kept the pressure on, but Gengenbacher's bunny made it 50-40 with 7:10 mark. The Raiders, who saw Gengenbacher foul out with 2:42 left having scored 25 points, made a 5-0 surge to get within 57-54, but Kelly Curran stopped the bleeding by calmly draining two free throws.
The Saints made 7 of 8 free throws the final 1:21 to secure the triumph.
"We lost to a great team," said QND coach Eric Orne. "Reinhart is terrific and Norton is extremely talented."
Frerichs finished with 15 points, while teammate Claire Obert added 11 to go with nine assists.