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Dajhe Mullins leads one last team pregame warm up chant as players step off the bus at a rally for the 4A state champion Marian Catholic girls basketball team at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, Sunday, March 3, 2013. | Joseph P.
It was a shot basketball players wait their whole career for, a buzzer beater with the state title on the line.
When the ball rolled off the rim into her hands Saturday night at Redbird Arena in Normal, Marian Catholic’s Kauai Bradley stepped up and embraced the moment.
Her putback bucket at the buzzer gave Marian Catholic a 48-47 winner over Rolling Meadows, giving the Spartans the program’s first state title.
“It’s settled in a bit,” Bradley said with a smile Sunday. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, and it was a little nerve-racking. I knew I had to throw the ball up there, and it went in. It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s a dream come true.”
Sunday afternoon in Chicago Heights, the state champion Spartans returned to Marian Catholic with a Chicago Heights Fire Department escort. The victorious team was greeted by several hundred fans at Marian’s Leadership Center.
For senior guard Briana Narcissi, the fans coming out in droves meant everything.
“I was not expecting everyone to come out, and it was an awesome feeling,” Narcissi said. “When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a part of Marian, to maybe go downstate. It’s so surreal to actually be a state champion.”
The state championship was the first in school history for a girls team, and third overall with the 2012 3A baseball team and 1993 4A football team.
Megan Walsh has been on the Marian varsity for three years and part of her freshman season. Closing her high school career after coming up short in previous years, the Truman State-bound senior forward couldn’t have imagined a better finish.
“Winning the title means everything,” Walsh said. “I worked so hard, and the past players like Simone Law, Jasmine Matthews, Emily Kobel, Val Finnin — they worked so hard only to have it taken from them. We tried to win it for them, too.”
Marian Catholic closes the season with a dominant 33-1 record. The Spartans only loss? A December loss to Rolling Meadows, one that was avenged Saturday night.
Bradley’s buzzer beater was the second crazy playoff finish for Marian after junior star Ashton Millender banked in a buzzer-beating three-pointer against Marist in the sectional championship.
After defeating Peoria Richwoods 56-37 in the supersectional, Marian dismantled defending state champ Young 63-39 in the semifinals Friday.
The storybook ending was there Saturday, Bradley putting the capper on the team’s dramatic postseason run.
“Any team, you need to have a little luck along the way, too,” Marian Catholic coach Annie Byrne said. “We play the toughest schedule we probably could, and as a coach, I was a little nervous about the schedule I made. This was just a great group of girls who were ready for any challenge we threw at them.”
The Spartans will lose key contributors from a six-player senior class, but are expected to return Millender (15.2 points per game), Teniya Page (12.2 points) and Bradley (6.7 points), among others.
That’s for next year, though. Byrne isn’t focusing there just yet.
“We’re embracing the moment right now,” Byrne said with a smile. “I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed a season as much as I enjoyed this one. Not because of the victories, but the wonderful kids we had.”