By JOSH RIZZO
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
NORMAL, Ill. — Cassidy Foley knew Jordan Frericks was going to win the opening tip.
That meant the 5-foot-8 Quincy Notre Dame junior guard needed to get herself open.
Charging toward the basket as Frericks did as expected to start Saturday's Class 3A state championship game at Redbird Arena, Foley caught a pass from Kassidy Gengenbacher, scored the game's first basket and put the Lady Raiders on course to a 62-45 victory over Vernon Hills.
"I was just like ‘Let's go,'" Foley said. "I just want to win so bad. I had so much energy and wanted to play defense and score off the press right away."
The opening sequence was nearly identical to the Lady Raiders' start in their other six playoff games.
Each time, QND won the tip and scored the opening basket.
"When we break huddle, we want to score the first points of the game," Lady Raiders coach Eric Orne said. "That's been our signature. Jordan, as a freshman, the first game she started, she got the tip and we scored. Tonight, as a senior, she got the tip and Cassidy Foley converted. That set the tone and puts us right into our press."
The Lady Raiders' press produced quick results as QND stole the inbounds pass and Frericks made a layup. Another steal and layup by Frericks, followed by a turnover and a free throw from Foley had the Lady Raiders ahead 7-0 with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left in the quarter.
Kristen Gegenbacher has lost track of how many times QND's opened with the first basket.
"I don't know," Kristen Gengenbacher said. "It definitely gets our crowd going. It gets us going. Especially at Redbird where there the atmosphere is so high and everyone is in such a great mood. Getting that first point is such a great feeling and gets the momentum going for us."
Working the ball around Frericks and her 6-foot-6 wingspan was tough for Vernon Hills.
"To break the pressure, we wanted to take our time, get it up and not give them any runouts," Cougars coach Paul Brettner said. "When they get those runouts, those are layups for them. With Jordan at the front of the press, it's a tough press because she's so athletic and fast."
Tough break: QND freshman Olivia Hyer, who scored three points in the Lady Raiders' 67-51 semifinal win over Morton, missed the state title game after a mishap during warmups.
"She just stopped on a pivot and hurt her knee," Orne said. "We could have an ACL tear with Olivia Hyer. As great of a day as it was, there was a little bit of sadness."
Playing big: Two nights in a row, QND junior forward Mary Beth Hugenberg has accepted tough defensive assignments.
During the semifinals against Morton Friday night, the 5-10 Hugenberg had to guard 6-2 forward Sarah Livingston, who committed to the University of Illinois. Saturday, Hugenberg drew Vernon Hills' 6-2 center Meri Bennett-Swanson, who has signed with DePaul.
Physically strong and featuring a traditional back to the basket approach, Bennett-Swanson wanted to flex her muscles inside.
"She was trying to get me behind her," Hugenberg said. "I was a lot smaller than the girls I guarded, they were 6-2 and I'm 5-10. I had to think, ‘I'm stronger than this girl. I can take this girl no matter how much taller she is than me.'"
Bennett-Swanson finished with eight points, three rebounds and two blocked shots. Hugenberg finished with seven points and five rebounds.
Playing tough and relying on teammates for help in tough spots was key for Hugenberg.
"We didn't want Jordan to get in foul trouble," Hugenberg said. "I had to step it up defensively and take the big girl. I just really had to bear down. Most importantly, I knew someone had my back when I was fronting the girl."
Sizing them up: Quincy native Tom Ernst was disappointed he couldn't evaluate the officials of the QND-Vernon Hills game in person. An IHSA official himself, Ernst always likes to see how officials call the game.
Ernst, who is a QND graduate, called the Class 2A championship game last weekend between Nashville and Champaign St. Thomas Moore. It was his second trip to state. He also called the Class 1A title game two years ago.
He wanted to make the trip to watch QND Saturday in Normal, but his plans fell through.
"It's a little difficult to watch," Ernst said about watching the game on TV. "Had I been watching the two teams play in person, it would have been a lot more calming. It's much easier to watch it there. You can only see what the lens showed you rather than the whole thing.
"As an official, I like to watch officials and see how they are calling the game. You can only see the birds-eye view."
All-state honors: Frericks was named first-team all-state by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. Kassidy Gengenbacher landed on the second team.