Screeching Eagles capture regional championship
When Mt. Assisi coach Kelsey James walked onto the court prior to the start of last Thursday’s Class 2A Lisle Regional championship contest against the host school, she happily admitted that she had never seen Screeching Eagles players as focused on a game.
To be sure, there was some obvious motivation for that level of concentration. Last month came the announcement that Mt. Assisi would be closing at the end of the current school year.
James wasn’t sure if that reality would be enough to elevate her team to victory over the favored Lady Lions. But when the Eagles hoisted their second consecutive regional trophy after stunning the hosts 52-42, it was obvious this Mt. Assisi squad was playing with a confidence level that even has James doing some dreaming.
Senior center Mary Kate Wetzel poured in 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and junior transfer Jess Moriarty added 13 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Eagles (13-17) past Lisle. Senior Terri Dearth and freshman Monica Tadros each pitched in with seven points for Mt. Assisi, which met Westmont this past Tuesday in a Harper Sectional semifinal.
The Eagles reached the regional title game against Lisle (19-10) by virtue of their 67-12 rout of Harper last Tuesday. Beating the Lady Bulldogs was one thing; toppling the Lady Lions was a far greater challenge, but not an insurmountable one in James’ opinion — or, more importantly, in the minds of her athletes.
“I walked into the gym [and] you could tell that no matter what I said or what I was doing, they had their minds set and made up,” James said. “They were going to win that game. It just didn’t matter who the opponent was. It was like that right from the start.
“In the couple times we were down, they looked at each other as if to say, ‘We’re not leaving here without a win.’ They knew that this was their game. For me, that makes my job easy because if they want it, that’s half the battle.”
The Eagles were down 23-21 at halftime and trailed by six in the third quarter when two baskets by Tadros and one from Moriarty created a 31-all deadlock. Mt. Assisi moved in front and gradually stretched out its lead, using Tadros’ three-point play, Moriarty’s 3-point basket and Kathleen Murphy’s free throw to construct a 46-35 edge with 3:55 remaining in the contest.
Moriarty then stepped forward to sink five consecutive charity tosses over the final 1:46 to extend what had been a five-point advantage and secure the crown for the Eagles.
“Even leading up to the Lisle game — and since the game — they’ve bought into the idea that no matter what is going on, they’re going to want it more than anyone else wants it,” James said of her athletes. “And that’s great because that’s what I have preached to the girls about.
“The team buying into that has been a coach’s dream. They’ve also bought into the importance of a solid defense.”
Against Westmont, which already owned two victories over Mt. Assisi prior to Tuesday’s sectional clash, the Eagles had to find a way to more adequately cope with the Lady Sentinels’ zone defense.
“They play a 2-3 zone the entire game, which forces us to shoot from the outside,” James said. “I’ve stressed to the girls that we can’t just settle for the outside shot. We’ve worked on ways to beat that zone.”
What has touched James personally is the overflow of support from the wider Mt. Assisi community, which has embraced the basketball team, whose two regional titles are the only postseason championships garnered in the program’s 62-year history.
“They [were] throwing a pep rally on Tuesday for the girls,” James said. “A lot more people have rallied behind these girls. They’re buying into the fact that the girls are doing well, and that this is the last time this program will be playing and do well.
“They’re doing all they can do to support the team, and I appreciate that. It’s a great thing for the girls to feel that support in the school and in the community.
“The second regional title was especially satisfying. Talking with the girls, this was a lot more appreciated because it was a close game and Lisle had already beaten us in the past. They worked a lot harder for this one and came away even more confident as a team.”
No matter what happened this week, James said she will never forget what her team has accomplished.
“This experience has been a real confidence booster for all of us as the team has advanced through the playoffs,” she said. “We all want to end this year on a good note and see how far we can go. I’m so enjoying the time with this group. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The Lady Spartans finished the regular season with a 25-1 record, the best in school history, and reigned as South Suburban Conference Red champs after logging three victories last week.
The first of those was a 60-34 nonconference thrashing of Chicago Christian on Monday. Oak Lawn followed that conquest with drubbings of Eisenhower (77-23) and Evergreen Park (68-25). The latter two triumphs completed the Lady Spartans’ run through the SSC, where they went 12-1.
Four players scored in double figures for Oak Lawn in its win over the Lady Knights, who fell behind 21-6 in the first quarter and trailed 40-11 at halftime. Leading the Lady Spartans’ balanced attack were Brianna Markusic and Jannah Mahmoud, who tallied 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Also producing notable numbers were Brooke Annerino (12 points, five steals), Dee Dee Shatat (10 points) and LaTondra Brooks (seven points, nine assists, seven steals, six rebounds). Kate Pruim’s nine points paced Chicago Christian.
Eisenhower also saw hope fade early on Tuesday, as Oak Lawn amassed 35 points in the opening period and led by 31 at the break. Mahmoud (game-high 24 points, eight rebounds, six steals) and Brooks (13 points, seven assists, six steals) combined for 26 of the Lady Spartans’ markers in the first eight minutes.
Markusic (18 points, six rebounds), Shatat (six points, six rebounds) and Annerino (six points, six rebounds) also lent a hand as Oak Lawn closed out its home schedule in overwhelming fashion.
“The girls were really fired up for the game,” Lady Spartans coach Janet Meyers said. “We had one of the best first quarters we have had all year. The girls really got it done defensively [and] Jannah did a great job of scoring in transition.
“All of the senior players scored in the first quarter. It was really exciting to watch. They made some awesome shots and passes.
“All year we have stressed the importance of having a strong first quarter, and they have really come through in the second half of the season.”
It was more of the same for Oak Lawn versus Evergreen, which was 20 points arrears at the end of the first stanza. Mahmoud (14 points, six rebounds), Markusic (14 points, five rebounds), Brooks (12 points, eight assists, four steals) and Annerino (10 points, four assists, three steals) were once again standouts on the Lady Spartans’ behalf.
“We had another great first quarter,” Meyers said. “Our press created a lot of scoring opportunities for us.”
Capping Oak Lawn’s record-setting regular campaign was Brooks’ selection as the SSC Red Player of the Year. Joining her on the all-conference team were Mahmoud, Markusic and Annerino.
Meyers couldn’t say enough about Brooks’ impact on the Lady Spartans.
“She may not have the highest point average, but she does have the best overall stats —points, assists, steals and rebounds — in the area,” Meyers said. “She creates scoring opportunities for her teammates and she has led us to a great season.”
The Lady Chargers (12-13, 6-8) completed their regular season with a pair SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue victories: 58-44 over Joliet Central last Tuesday ad 49-36 over Joliet West on Thursday.
Casey McMahon had a game-high 21 points to lead Stagg past the Steelwomen, who surrendered more than 50 points to the Lady Chargers for the second time this year. Stagg had not reached that total against any other foe during a 14-game stretch.
McMahon, who also made three steals, included five 3-point baskets among her scoring and now has 200 for her prep career. Her perimeter marksmanship, plus Hannah Henderson’s dribble penetration helped the Lady Chargers build a 24-16 halftime lead, which was extended to an insurmountable 42-24 after three quarters.
Henderson finished with 12 points and seven assists. Other Stagg contributors included Mia DiGiacomo (nine points, eight rebounds), Noor Elmosa (eight points, all at the foul line) and Kate Adams (six points).
“We were able to get into the paint and had a good free throw-shooting night, going 17-for-23 as a team,” Lady Chargers coach Bill Turner said. “Good ball movement and finding an open teammate were the keys to getting some easy baskets and improving our scoring output.”
Following a Stagg tradition, the Lady Chargers opened their final regular-season home contest with a senior-dominated lineup. And McMahon (22 points, five rebounds, three assists) ensured it would be a good start as she sank a couple long-range buckets to fuel a 13-9 getaway.
Two more McMahon 3-balls in the second quarter staked Stagg to a 26-13 halftime edge, and she ended the night going 6-of-8 from behind the arc. McMahon has made 75 3-pointers thus far this season.
“Her increased offensive production from unlimited range is really coming at a great time with us beginning IHSA tournament play,” Turner said.
Henderson (five points, five rebounds, four assists, four steals), DiGiacomo (seven points, eight rebounds, four blocks) and Elmosa (six points) also delivered solid performances for the Lady Chargers, who were still in front by 13 at the third-period stop. Megan Hearne and Alex Abed each drilled a 3-pointer to further aid the offense.
“Everyone played significant minutes in the game, and it was a nice way for our seniors to go out,” Turner said. “Gerda Sliuzaite is the fourth senior member on the squad. She has been battling some nagging injuries as of late, and it was great to see her get some playing time.”
With two SSC Red victories last week — 60-50 over Shepard on Tuesday and 46-45 over Eisenhower on Friday — the Lady Bulldogs finished their regular season with a 13-11 overall record and 6-7 conference mark.
Richards trailed the Lady Astros after each of the first three frames, but it wiped out the deficit by erupting for 21 fourth-quarter points. Carly Stazak (15 points), Sydni Tears (13 points, 14 rebounds), Taylor Sonichsen (12 points, six assists, five steals), Anita Robinson (nine points), and Brianna Kuchenny (seven points, seven rebounds) all contributed for the Lady Bulldogs.
“Our five seniors — Stazak, Taylor Sonichsen, Christina Kwartnik, Anita Robinson and Alfredia Crawford — started and we jumped out to the early lead,” said Richards coach Jeff Kortz, whose club scored eight of the game’s first 10 points. “[Then] we came out and played good defense in the third quarter.
“I was very proud of our second-half comeback — it was a tribute to our team and our seniors. I’m very proud of the team and their determination to keep fighting.”
Dae Jae Williams had 13 points to pace Shepard.
The Lady Bulldogs held sway over Eisenhower pretty much the whole way on Friday, with the lead standing at double digits both at halftime (29-16) and after three periods (38-27). However, the Lady Cardinals refused to roll over and staged a furious fourth-quarter rally that fell just short.
“It was Senior Night for the Lady Cardinal seniors and they came out playing very hard,” Kortz said. “I am very proud of my team. We [now] have a six-game win streak after sputtering early in the season.
“They are a great group of girls. I’m very proud of how we finished the back half of the season.”
Tears (14 points, six rebounds) and Kwartnik (11 points) were Richards’ ringleaders versus Eisenhower, but Robinson (six points), Taylor Sonichsen (six points, eight rebounds), Stazak (five points, five assists), Andy Sonichsen (four points, six rebounds) and Kuchenny (seven rebounds) also pitched in to the winning effort.
Before running afoul of Oak Lawn on Thursday, the Lady Mustangs battled Reavis on much more even terms. However, the result was not any more favorable for Evergreen, which suffered a tough 54-50 SSC Red defeat on Tuesday.
The Lady Rams fought back from a 12-point third-period deficit and then used free throws to prevail in overtime. Megan Pfister (17 points, seven rebounds) and Zoe Monks (16 points) were standouts for the Lady Mustangs (13-14, 4-9) in a losing effort.
Three-point baskets by Pfister and Monks keyed a 10-run that created Evergreen’s double-digit margin. The Lady Mustangs were still ahead by seven with five minutes left in regulation, but they were unable to close out Reavis after going scoreless on their last 20 possessions.
The Lady Knights didn’t dwell long on their loss to Oak Lawn, as evidenced by their 52-49 Suburban Christian Conference Gold win over Marian Central Catholic the next day.
Kaycee Pittman tallied 18 points for Chicago Christian (9-16, 4-7) versus the Lady Hurricanes, while Anna Persenaire posted a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. Two days later, the Lady Knights were even more impressive as they rolled over Timothy Christian by 30, 59-29.
Pittman again led the way for Chicago Christian as she totaled 10 points. Emily Lemmenes backed her with nine.
It was not a good week for the Lady RedHawks, who got tagged with three defeats.
Things looked promising last Monday after Marist constructed a 25-7 first-period lead over Morgan Park, but the Lady Mustangs recovered from the early blow and eventually bagged a 61-53 victory despite strong showings from the Lady RedHawks’ duo of Brooke Wyderski (18 points, including five 3-pointers) and Skylar Patterson (14 points).
Morgan Park surged ahead down the stretch, then put Marist away by sinking 7-of-8 foul shots in the last 16 seconds.
The Lady RedHawks (11-15) also dropped verdicts to Benet Academy (65-58) and Trinity (69-46).
After losing to Richards, the Lady Astros (6-19, 3-9) bounced back to edge Argo 42-40 in another SSC encounter last Tuesday.
Myrissha Mitchell was Shepard’s scoring leader versus the Lady Argonauts with 10 points, while Courtney Dalton owned the boards. The latter finished with 19 rebounds.
The Lady Eagles lost to Homewood-Flossmoor (84-23) and Bolingbrook (54-35) in SWSC Blue games last week.
Sam Youngwirth had 10 points to lead Sandburg (15-13, 6-8) against the Lady Raiders.