Girls Basketball: Hillcrest regroups, claims 3A third placeHillcrest's Shannise Heady (31) hugs her teammate Jasmine Sanders (21) in the last few minutes of the Third-Place game against Springfield. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 3, 2012 11:23PM
NORMAL, Ill. — Third place isn’t first. Heck, it isn’t even second.
But Hillcrest did achieve a first Saturday in a 70-54 victory over Springfield in the Class 3A third-place game.
The Hawks ended state finals weekend with a ‘W’.
“We talked yesterday about how there would only be four teams finishing with a win,” Hillcrest coach John Maniatis said. “We were very happy to accomplish the mission, take care of business.
“I know how important it was for these seniors to collect their 110th win of their careers.”
It was a pretty impressive one, too.
Shannise Heady led the way for the Hawks (28-4) with 19 points and eight rebounds. Jasmine Sanders added 15 points, Mariam Awoniyi 10 points and eight rebounds and Jasmine Sanders 10 points.
The Hawks started fast, fell behind by as many as eight points in the second quarter, but really took it to Springfield in the second half.
“This was a tremendous character check for us today,” Maniatis said. “There was a great deal of disappointment not finishing the job in that last four minutes yesterday (a 52-48 semifinal loss to Montini).
“It would have been very easy for this group to feel the sorrow. But our young ladies showed their character, their perseverance, showed the determination. They showed the heart of a champion.”
Heady, for one, showed what she could do after a very disappointing semifinal in which she sat most of the first half with foul trouble and never really did get into gear.
The Seton Hall-bound senior had three first-period baskets on Saturday, and never left the floor until the final minute.
“I was able to play how I play,” Heady said. “I didn’t have to worry about fouling somebody or getting a charging call. I felt comfortable.”
The Hawks made their big run in the third period, but it was a two-minute stretch at the end of the first half that set everything up.
Hillcrest trailed 31-23 when Heady keyed a 6-1 run with a jumper and two free throws, and Awoniyi dropped in a huge putback just before the intermission buzzer.
“It definitely got me fired up to put the ball in the basket,” said Awoniyi, a junior. “I just couldn’t disappoint the seniors.
“This was the last game of their high school careers, period. And it was important, even if it was for third place.”
Sanders popped a three-pointer to start the second half, and Jahmia Phillips (eight points) followed with a bank-in to put the Hawks up for good at 34-32. Phillips would add the next two Hillcrest baskets as well, helping get the lead into double digits.
The Hawks led 59-47 with just under four minutes remaining. It was just about at that point on Friday when, with two chances to extend a nine-point lead, they missed both front ends of the 1-and-1.
Not this time.
Heady made her front end, and the next time down Sanders was fouled and swished a pair.
This one didn’t get away.