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Erin Boothe caught the outlet pass at half-court and a big smile swept across her face.
Even before she scored the layup with 32 seconds remaining on the clock in the Class 4A sectional final at Loyola, the Evanston senior guard knew the game was over.
“I did,” Boothe said. “I don’t even know what to say right now. This is so amazing, and I’m speechless.”
Top-seeded Evanston won its first sectional championship since 2000 with its 54-42 victory over second-seeded Maine South. The Wildkits (27-3) play fifth-ranked Rolling Meadows on Monday at the Niles West Supersectional. A win there gets Evanston back to the state tournament for the first time since the 1990-91 season.
Down 7-2 midway through the first quarter, Evanston turned it around with a 17-0 run that stretched into the second. The Wildkits then led by as many as 15 in the third quarter.
But the Hawks (27-6) didn’t go away.
Senior guard Mackenzie Duffy made a 3-pointer to start the fourth, and senior center Jacqui Grant and senior guard Regan Carmichael both contributed points to get Maine South within five, 43-38, with 5:57 to go. It was the first time all game the Hawks had scored back-to-back baskets.
“We haven’t been in this position before,” said Evanston coach Elliot Whitefield, who’s in his second season in charge of the program. “Everybody was looking at who was going to make a play.”
That’s when Evanston junior guard Seara Clayborn hit a 3-pointer at the 4:21 mark to spark the Wildkits to their 10th win in a row. Clayborn connected on three 3s to score 13 points. Senior forward Alecia Cooley finished with a team-best 18 points.
“I told her before the game that she was going to make some shots that will be the difference in the game,” Whitefield said of Clayborn.
Grant led all scorers with 19 points.