CHAMPAIGN — On a night that Centennial won, it was a loss that was on the minds of the Chargers.
Junior Stacia Simmons suffered a possible season-ending knee injury in the final 2 1/2 minutes of Centennial's 61-39 Class 3A semifinal victory against Rantoul at Combes Gym.
"We'll pray on it and hope for the best," Centennial coach Susan Thomas said Tuesday night.
The 5-foot-6 Simmons was playing her best. Coming off a season-high 25-point performance in the regular season finale, she was the second-half catalyst who got the 10th-ranked Chargers going.
Twice in the first 14 seconds of the third period, she stole the ball from Rantoul. She scored a layup after the first steal and set up Chelsea Cross for a basket after the next.
Centennial's 29-16 halftime lead suddenly became 33-16, and Rantoul (6-23) was unable to draw closer than 14 points thereafter.
"Stacia is always a big spark," Thomas said. "She has great hands and is a good finisher. She has the ability to score points in a hurry."
Simmons finished with 14 points, second among the Chargers to Cross, who returned from a two-week layoff with pneumonia to score 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Cross had a team-high eight rebounds.
Simmons' non-contact injury — which happened while approaching the basket from the left side for an uncontested layup — dampened the Chargers' mood but not their spirit.
"I don't know that we would have done much celebrating anyway," Thomas said. "It was a game we expected to win."
Centennial returns to Cabutti Court at 7:30 p.m. Thursday to face third-seeded Mahomet-Seymour in the championship game. Simmons is not expected to play.
"Every team has to face a little adversity," Thomas said. "We have other girls that are very capable and have shown the ability to step in."
Rantoul's Hannah Wascher led all players with 27 points and 15 rebounds, six on the offensive end.
"Our girls were ready for the challenge and hung in there for a while," Rantoul coach Jeff McKaufsky said. "The result was not what we wanted, but the one thing we gave was effort. I was pleased with the way we fought."
Mahomet-Seymour 50, Central 42. The Bulldogs recovered from a 5-1 deficit with nine first-quarter free throws during a 13-0 run and held on to stun the second-seeded but short-handed Maroons.
The Maroons (20-8) overcame deficits as large as 10 points and led 42-39 following Laura Litchfield's rebound basket with 3:48 remaining. It marked the last points of the season for Central.
M-S broke a 42-42 tie on junior Kristen Belyea's three-pointer deep from the key with 1:18 left.
"I hadn't been hitting, but my teammates had confidence in me and that gave me confidence," said Belyea, who scored a game-high 20 points, eight on free throws.
M-S coach Nathan Seal said "the unsung hero" was junior Hannah Charter, who came off the bench to grab a game-high 10 rebounds.
"She did a great job controlling the boards," Seal said.
Maggie Schmidt had 16 points and Maddie See nine boards for M-S.
Litchfield led Central with 13 points. Kewanee Garrett, 5 of 8 from the field, added 10 points. The Maroons were without suspended Jakeenya Evans, their top scorer, and Johynn-a Evans, the second- leading rebounder.
"Credit Mahomet," Central coach Staci Starkweather said. "They executed well and hit free throws (18 of 25). I'd take those 10 we had (in uniform) any day. Laura and Kewanee both stepped up and did nice jobs."