End of the line for Screeching Eagles
This time, it really is the end.
The 2013-14 postseason will be forever remembered as a bittersweet one for the basketball players and coaches at Mt. Assisi. The sweet part of it is easy to figure — by upsetting Westmont last Tuesday in a Class 2A Harper Sectional semifinal, the Screeching Eagles advanced farther into the state playoffs than ever before.
And even though Seton Academy ended Mt. Assisi’s dream of reaching the supersectional round for the first time by doling out a 45-37 defeat on Thursday, the Eagles would normally have used this latest experience to prepare themselves for another run next year. But that, of course, is where the bitter comes in.
Mt. Assisi will close its doors for good at the end of the current school year, meaning there’ll be no more basketball. Thus, those individuals connected with the program must relish the past two years, when the Eagles claimed the school’s only two regional championships.
“Our accomplishments are what really kept my girls from feeling torn down when we did lose the sectional championship game,” Mt. Assisi coach Kelsey James said. “Nobody on the team ever thought we were going to make it that far, but the girls believed in each other. And that belief took them a long way.
“They were happy that they proved to people that they were a good team. We shocked a bunch of people and we never gave up.”
Westmont had topped the Eagles twice during the regular season, but there would be no three-peat, thanks to input from several Mt. Assisi players. Most noteworthy among them were Jess Moriarty (14 points), MaryKate Wetzel (nine points, nine rebounds), Kathleen Murphy (nine points) and Terri Dearth (10 rebounds).
The Eagles (15-18) snapped a 23-all tie in the fourth quarter on Murphy’s three-point play, then stretched their lead out on a layup and Wetzel’s short jumper. The Lady Sentinels were back within a deuce when Moriarty finished them off with a pair of 3-point baskets that were responsible for Mt. Assisi’s clinching 6-1 run.
“The win against Westmont was exciting because they had already beaten us twice this season,” James said. “They play a 2-3 zone [defense], and if our shots aren’t falling, we’re not really sure what to do. So we really worked hard at beating that.
“The biggest thing for us was Sabrina Miller playing such great defense on their best player. She’s the reason that we won. The girls were definitely on a high [after] coming away with the first sectional win in school history.”
The Eagles couldn’t keep the magic going on Thursday, although they did put up a fight against Seton before succumbing. Wetzel (14 points, five rebounds), Dearth (10 points, nine rebounds) and Moriarty (10 points) were the mainstays in Mt. Assisi’s attack.
The Eagles held sway by six (24-18) at halftime and led the Lady Sting by as many as eight points before that. However, Seton’s Ebony Bailey came alive over the final two periods, scoring 17 of her game-high 22 points during that span.
A 12-2 surge by the Lady Sting turned momentum their way, but Dearth’s 3-point bucket shaved Mt. Assisi’s deficit to three before Seton responded with a 5-0 run that pretty much decided the issue in its favor.
“The girls were excited about playing Seton,” James said. “We got up in the first half [and] that was like the peak. They were happy to be there.
“The energy dropped after that and Seton all of a sudden made a run on us. We were never too far behind them or ever out of the game, but we lost momentum.
“Against Seton, it was difficult because once they get on a run, the players and fans really get into it — and that’s very difficult to stop because everything is working against you. I think the girls were a little shocked, and it showed.”
Nevertheless, the season was still a memorable one for the Eagles. Dearth and Wetzel provided senior leadership, Miller was the defensive catalyst, Murphy emerged as a solid sophomore performer, and Moriarty was a primary offensive cog.
“Jess was pivotal and I don’t know if she even realizes it,” James said. “When I watched Jess play before she transferred to Mt. Assisi, I knew she was the missing link we needed on offense. Without Jess, there was a lot of pressure on Terri for offense and MaryKate to pick up the rest; [with her], they got to relax and play their game.
“I’m so proud of what these girls accomplished. I’m going to miss coaching this team very much.”
Seeking a second consecutive regional title, the Lady Mustangs literally had the lights turned out on them in the midst of holding a three-point lead in the closing minutes of last Thursday’s Class 3A Evergreen Park Regional championship game against Bogan.
A power outage that lasted an hour-and-a-half forced the last 2:08 to be played the following night before the Mustangs boys played their Senior Night game. Fortunately for Evergreen’s females, the 19-hour break revitalized their drive and they not only held on, but added three points in what became a thrilling 52-46 victory.
The triumph, which followed an impressive 57-40 win over Lindblom in last Wednesday’s semifinal, placed the Lady Mustangs (15-14) in this past Tuesday’s Solorio Academy Sectional against Philips. The winner will play either Harlan or De La Salle for the championship tonight.
“The kids now believe that they can play with a team like Bogan,” Evergreen coach Bruce Scaduto said. “They have the confidence, and they know that now anything can happen. I realize that they don’t want to lose. They want to keep playing.
“That blackout was definitely weird, but the girls ended up playing better on Friday at 5:30 [because] we added to the lead. We never imagined we would have a 19-hour timeout — imagine sleeping on that.
“But it was great to win the game in front of a packed house that was there for the boys’ game. It was fun.”
Evergreen also had fun against Lindblom by jumping out to a 17-0 lead and being up by 15 at the first-quarter break. It was 27-7 at halftime and 48-23 after three periods, which enabled Scaduto to play his entire roster.
Megan Pfister led the Lady Mustangs’ attack with 19 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals. Erica Caridine added 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and three steals, while Nicole Larkin chipped in 10 points.
“I don’t know what it was, but we came out on fire against Lindblom,” Scaduto said. “That 17-0 run set the tone for the game.
“We just came out on fire and we didn’t let up. They couldn’t hit the baskets and we were hitting them. We kept that lead throughout the game, and it was a great game throughout.
“And when Megan gets hot, and you add to that her ball handling, we feed off it. Erica is the fastest player on the team and our best defender. Her quickness really helped suffocate their offense and she had steals at important times. Her hustling led to layups.”
Evergreen had to rally against Bogan after falling behind 16-7 in the first period. The Lady Mustangs cut their deficit to 23-20 by halftime and went ahead for good at 31-28 by the end of the third quarter.
Larkin led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Zoe Monks added 11 points for Evergreen and Caridine chipped in nine.
“We got down early and we were playing scared,” Scaduto said. “We just weren’t comfortable with what was going on and we weren’t hitting some of the shots. Slowly, we got back into the game. We hit a couple of 3-point baskets in the second quarter and held them to seven [points].
“We went into a matchup zone and stopped them from driving. They didn’t shoot the best, nowhere close to when they weren’t missing against Queen of Peace, [so] we were able to slow the game down, sit back and tighten things up. [And] we got rebounds.
“It was a great victory and the girls played hard.”
The Lady Spartans (27-1) had their best week as a basketball program since 2006-07 — the last time they won a regional title — by defeating Lincoln-Way Central 89-52 in last Tuesday’s semifinal of the Class 4A Oak Lawn Regional and capping off the week with a 55-48 victory over Mother McAuley in Thursday’s championship game.
Jannah Mahmoud (28 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals), Brianna Markusic (25 points, 13 rebounds, three steals), LaTondra Brooks (14 points, 14 assists, seven steals), Brooke Annerino (nine points) and Kelsey Luckett (five points, six rebounds) all lent a hand for the Lady Spartans in their rout of the Lady Knights, who play the Grinnell College style of basketball. That mainly consists of full substitutions every 45 seconds or so, constant pressing and trapping everywhere on the court, and a partiality for launching 3-point shots while on offense.
Despite facing a unique challenge, Oak Lawn was equal to the task as it owned a 12-point lead after one quarter and 17-point edge at halftime.
“We had spent a lot of time preparing for Lincoln-Way Central, and it paid off,” Lady Spartans coach Janet Meyers said. “We had done a lot of 7-on-5 [work] during practice to simulate their press and to force us to move on defense to pressure their 3-point shooters. We did a great job handling their press, and we scored easily and often against it.
“We had put in a new press breaker and reviewed all of our press breakers, but for the most part we broke the press using the press breaker we used all year long. The girls did a great job.”
Getting the ball to Brooks and Annerino was the key for Oak Lawn, as both players were able to consistently take it the length of the floor and distribute it. Brooks was especially effective on offense as she displayed some moves that had the Lady Knights’ defense out of sync, and her 14 assists represented a single-game school record.
Markusic was waiting under the basket for several of those passes and scored 12 of her points in the opening stanza. Brooks added eight as the Lady Spartans amassed 25 points in all over those eight minutes. Eight points from Mahmoud then enabled Oak Lawn to construct a comfortable 44-27 halftime advantage.
“Lincoln-Way Central continued to put the pressure on, even though we were scoring layups off the press and the fast break,” Meyers said. “We [also] did a great job defending the 3-point line. Brooke Annerino, Kelsey Luckett and LaTondra Brooks worked hard on the perimeter.”
Overall, the Lady Spartans held the Lady Knights to 11 3s, which were the main ingredients in the latter’s 52-point output.
“That may seem like a lot of points, but they have been scoring 60-to-90 points a game and making 15-plus 3-point shots,” Meyers said. “I was really proud of my girls and their effort. They have been working hard all year and it showed against Lincoln-Way Central.
“We have never let them get overconfident — we have worked them hard in every practice, even though we were winning. They appreciated it after this game. They were in great physical shape, and it showed.
“We played eight girls for the majority of the game, and they went hard and fast for all four quarters.”
Brooks (15 points, three steals), Mahmoud (13 points, nine rebounds), Annerino (10 points, two steals) and Markusic (eight points) all continued their solid play on Thursday, which laid the groundwork for Oak Lawn’s regional-clinching triumph over McAuley. The Lady Spartans met Marist this past Tuesday in a Bloom Sectional semifinal.
With little time separating the regional semifinal and title contests, Meyers admitted Oak Lawn didn’t do a great deal of preparation for the Mighty Macs. It mostly consisted of watching McAuley play against Stagg and a bit of film study prior to Thursday’s pregame walk-through.
What helped was all the work that had gone into getting ready for Lincoln-Way Central.
“They were a fast team and they had some good 3-point shooters,” Meyers said of the Macs. “We were able to handle their man-to-man defensive pressure, and we did a great job of forcing their guards to shoot the 3-point shot under pressure and with hands in their face.
“They didn’t have a good night shooting, and I think our defense contributed to it.”
To be sure, that defense helped the Lady Spartans build a 14-7 first-quarter lead, which was created in part by Mahmoud’s three-quarter-court, buzzer-beating shot.
“That [shot] was a big boost for us,” Meyers said. “The crowd went nuts and so did our girls.”
Meanwhile, Oak Lawn was able to neutralize the explosive play of McAuley’s Elizabeth Nye, holding her to just two points before halftime.
“Nye is a good player and couldn’t be contained that way all game, but I think it took them out of their game in the first half,” Meyers said.
Jasma Williams hurt the Lady Spartans in the post in the second period, scoring eight points for the Macs, and Erin O’Malley added six from the perimeter. But with all five of its starters scoring in the frame, Oak Lawn withstood McAuley’s noisemaking and carried a 28-20 lead into the break.
The Lady Spartans maintained both their balanced attack and tough defense in the third quarter, which helped them extend their edge to 41-29. Controlling Williams was a big part of Oak Lawn’s second-half strategy, and she delivered just four additional points on the Macs’ behalf.
Nye picked up some of the slack with 14 points after intermission, but that wasn’t enough to crack into the Lady Spartans’ lead. McAuley did shave its deficit to four points at one juncture of the third quarter, but after a timeout Oak Lawn increased the margin back out to double digits to remain in control.
“This is the first time we have won a regional championship since the 2006-2007 season, and I’m so happy for these girls,” Meyers said. “They deserved to win a regional championship [and] it was great to win it on our home floor.
“We have had great parental and student support all year long. The gym was packed with parents, students and staff members, and that support means so much in big games like this.”
Williams finished with 14 points and eight rebounds for the Macs, who went 19-of-60 from the field. McAuley made good on 5-of-21 3-point attempts.
The Macs earned their berth in the regional final by taking down Stagg, 58-44, last Wednesday.
Nye tossed in 21 points and passed out six assists to pace McAuley (18-9), while Erin Drynan pitched in with 18 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. The Macs got up 16-7 in the opening quarter and held a healthy 30-16 lead at intermission, as they were able to do a great deal of inside scoring against what Lady Chargers coach Bill Turner felt was sub-par defense by his team.
“We talked about [having] better execution on offense, and we made some defensive adjustments and [increased] pressure with our game plan,” Turner said. “As a result, things began to turn around midway through the third quarter.”
Stagg outscored the Macs 21-13 over that eight-minute stretch and were within 43-37 during the fourth frame. Casey McMahon (15 points, five rebounds) caught fire from the outside, and her four 3-point hoops were a large part of the Lady Chargers’ revival. Alex Abed (eight points) and Noor Elmosa combined to give Stagg three more long-range buckets in the second half.
Making life a little easier for the Lady Chargers’ perimeter shooters was Hannah Henderson’s willingness to drive to the basket. Henderson (11 points, five rebounds, five assists) contributed a 7-of-8 display at the line during Stagg’s rally.
With her team’s season suddenly on the brink, Nye stepped forward to calmly sink some critical free throws for McAuley and lock up a hard-fought victory.
“I think we ran out of gas making that comeback and found ourselves having to foul down the stretch,” Turner said. “McAuley made all six free throws in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach, [but] I was very pleased with our effort in mounting that furious comeback.
“We had great leadership [from McMahon and Henderson] throughout the game and the season. The effort and attitude of the entire team was just outstanding. I am really proud of them.”
The Lady Chargers finished the season at 15-12 overall and 8-6 in the SouthWest Suburban Conference Blue. McMahon and Henderson were both chosen for the all-conference squad, and Stagg won the “Sportsmanship Award” that is voted on by all of the league’s coaches.
McMahon also finished as Stagg’s all-time leader, for both boys and girls, in every category related to 3-point shooting. She sank 222 3-point baskets in her prep career and holds both the single-season and single-game records with 87 and eight, respectively.
Before running afoul of McAuley, the Lady Chargers downed Eisenhower 56-29 in last Monday’s play-in game.
Three McMahon long balls were at the heart of Stagg’s 21-10 getaway, which became a 28-19 lead by halftime. She continued having a hot hand in the second half and finished with seven 3s, which allowed her to total a game-high 23 points to go along with nine rebounds and five steals.
Making McMahon more effective was junior forward Mia DiGiacomo, who forced the Lady Cardinals’ defense to have to pay closer attention to her after halftime. She ended the evening with 12 points, six rebounds and three steals.
With additional help from Elmosa (seven points, four assists) and Henderson (six points, six rebounds, five steals, three assists) also being a factor, the Lady Chargers ballooned their advantage to an insurmountable 43-25 by the third-period stop.
“I thought we played really well on the defensive end,” Turner said. “We forced 22 turnovers, grabbed 16 steals and blocked seven shots. That pressure allowed us to get into our transition game and really push the ball up the court.
“This team is at its best when we can get up and down the court, using our speed.”
The Lady Bulldogs opened state tournament play with a 64-34 victory over Shepard last Tuesday in a semifinal of the Class 4A Sandburg Regional. Richards’ postseason stay was short, though, as Marian Catholic eliminated the Lady Bulldogs the next night by a 51-15 count.
Richards jumped out to a 20-9 first-quarter lead versus the Lady Astros and was never headed. The edge grew to 21 points at halftime and 30 after three stanzas.
“The girls came out energized and played one of their most complete games of the year,” Lady Bulldogs coach Jeff Kortz said. “I was very proud of how hard they worked last week getting ready for this game, and it showed. Balanced scoring was a key.
“I’m very, very proud of my team.”
Sydni Tears led a trio of double-figure scorers for Richards with 18 points. She also grabbed four rebounds. Others chipping in were Christina Kwartnik (11 points, four rebounds), Carly Stazak (10 points, three steals), Taylor Sonichsen (nine points, nine assists) and Brianna Kuchenny (nine points, seven rebounds).
The Lady Bulldogs ran into a juggernaut on Wednesday and fell behind 26-5 after Marian embarked on a 15-0 tear during the second quarter. And things only got worse for Richards, as it was down 45-7 heading into the final frame.
Tears paced the Lady Bulldogs with 10 points and nine rebounds, but it was nowhere near enough for Richards (14-12) to survive and move on. The loss snapped a seven-game win streak for the Lady Bulldogs.
“The Lady Spartans from Marian are very, very tough,” Kortz said. “They play great team defense and trap and cause chaos on defense.
“I can see what all the hype is about. We got into bad spots and they made us pay, [but] I’m very, very proud of my five seniors: Taylor Sonichsen, Christina Kwartnik, Carly Stazak, Anita Robinson and Alfredia Crawford.”
After stumbling into the postseason, the Lady RedHawks shook off those late-regular-season setbacks well enough to capture the Class 4A TF North Regional championship last Wednesday.
Marist (13-15) beat the host Lady Meteors 67-41 for the crown. It opened the playoffs by tripping up TF South, 55-45, on Tuesday.
Brooke Wyderski and Katelyn Rosner scored 13 and 12 points, respectively, to boost the Lady RedHawks past the Lady Rebels. Wyderski was even better opposite TF North as she erupted for a game-high 31 points. Tehya Fortune backed her with 17 markers.
The Lady Meteors’ appearance in the title contest was likely made possible by the IHSA, which banned heavily favored Homewood-Flossmoor from the tournament because of alleged infractions regarding offseason practices.
The Lady Eagles reached the championship game of their own Class 4A regional by defeating Crete-Monee 53-49 last Wednesday, but they then fell well short of Marian Catholic on Thursday as the Lady Spartans cruised to a 58-25 win.
Sam Youngwirth notched 23 points and Julia Ruzevich added 16 for Sandburg in the semifinal, and Youngwirth struck for 13 more against Marian. Six of those points were part of an early 8-0 run that briefly gave Sandburg hope for a better outcome.
However, the Lady Spartans were able to get up 14-12 and later closed out the first half with a 14-5 spurt.
QUEEN OF PEACE
The Pride captured their second game of the season last Tuesday night by ushering in their playoff appearance with a 40-16 victory over Noble Street in the Class 3A Evergreen Park Regional.
Jelyn Chua (seven points) and Samantha Serrano (six) led Queen of Peace, which suffered a season-ending 72-27 loss to Bogan on Wednesday. Chau again led the Pride (2-27) with seven points.
The Lady Knights were eliminated from Class 3A tournament play last Monday as Julian handed down a 55-32 defeat. Abby Bulthuis paced Chicago Christian (9-17) with 20 points.