NORMAL After struggling mightily offensively against Stillman Valley, Aurora Central Catholic finally jump-started its offense in the fourth quarter.
In the third-place game of the girls Class 2A state basketball tournament, the Chargers took a pair of 1-point leads in the final two minutes on Saturday night.
But Stillman Valley freshman Jessica Hellyer belied her age, driving the length of the court, drawing two defenders at the basket and feeding Robyn Alde for an uncontested layup with nine seconds to go.
ACC had one final shot, but Tesa Alderman had her potential game-winning shot at the buzzer an 18-footer while being double teamed narrowly miss.
The Cardinals' 41-40 victory at Redbird Arena was the first state trophy for either program.
"It was a perfect pass," Alde said of the game-winning feed.
"I don't even know how I saw her," Hellyer said. "I couldn't just wait and think about it (while bring the ball upcourt.)"
"I was taking my chances with the freshman," Aurora Central coach Mark Fitzgerald said of his decision to full-court press on the inbounds.
The Alde point-blank field goal was the last of four lead changes and three ties in the final four-plus minutes.
Ashley Wilk, who had 6 points and 10 rebounds for Aurora Central, fouled out with six minutes and nine seconds to play.
Alex DeCraene, though, once again showcased her readiness to respond to any situation.
The junior guard, who started for an injured Lisa Rodriquez in the Chargers' supersectional win over Chicago Raby on Monday night, made her presence immediately known.
The Chargers' sixth man came off the bench to lead the team in scoring with 10 points, including a 3-pointer from the right wing that gave Aurora Central (25-8) a 34-33 lead, its first since the opening minutes of the first quarter.
"I was in the flow of the game," DeCraene said.
After DeCraene split two free throws for a 35-33 lead, the Cardinals' Sam Hellyer scored 4 straight points to restore their nearly game-long lead.
Alderman answered in convincing fashion, draining an NBA-distance 3-pointer to give the Chargers a 38-37 lead with 1:48 to play.
The younger Hellyer calmly sank free throws on the Cardinals' ensuing possession to reverse the razor-thin spread.
With Stillman Valley (27-7) looking to run clock following a pair of Aurora Central misses, DeCraene swiped the ball at midcourt and was fouled trying an off-handed layup with 17.1 seconds left.
The junior sank them both for a 40-39 Aurora Central lead, only to have the Cardinals' freshman sensation steal the thunder with her dazzling dribbling.
"It was a battle, back and forth," said Alderman, who finished with 8 points.
Jackie Cardona, who trails only Andrea Taylor in most points scored at Aurora Central, closed out her career with 6 points.
Kaitlyn Rosa had the same for ACC.
"The pendulum has swung for Aurora Central," Fitzgerald said. "I think these ladies showed that they belonged here."
Stillman Valley limited ACC to 21 percent shooting (4-for-19) in fashioning a 24-16 lead into halftime.
Jessica Gerig scored a game-high 13 points to pace the Cardinals.