There has been so much parity over the course of the 2017-18 girls basketball season, it actually feels off that the two best teams in the northern suburbs will be fighting it out for a sectional championship on Thursday night.
Time and time again, ranked teams have had head scratching losses, and top seeds have bowed without even winning a regional, but Maine West (29-1) and Loyola (25-5) have overcome those troubling odds to set up a much anticipated matchup between two top-10 teams.
The first game of the evening featured top seed Maine West defeating fifth seeded New Trier 52-38.
Both teams found it nearly impossible to score the basketball in the first quarter, Maine West limited New Trier to just four shot attempts, while the Warriors were having flashbacks to the Geneva game, by having to fight through New Trier’s physical play and a poor shooting first quarter.
“It’s always challenging at this level, especially in this sectional,” said Maine West coach Kim deMarigny. “There’s no opportunities to let up and even after a difficult first quarter our girls came to play tonight.”
Maine West had a slim 18-12 halftime lead before New Trier finally gained some momentum behind Cate Murdock (10 points, five rebounds) to take a 21-20 lead.
New Trier would lead by as many as five points late in the third quarter before Alisa Fallon (14 points, seven rebounds) sparked a 8-0 run to give the lead back to Maine West.
“I knew that it would be tough to win in the future if I didn’t score and I knew that was something I had to get back on track,” said Fallon in reference to her zero points against GBS in regionals. “But tonight we needed rebounding too so I tried my best to do that and it was a battle out there.”
The 8-0 run would turn out to be part of a much larger 27-8 stretch that saw Maine West dominate the fourth quarter and pick up another double-digit win.
“We’re a really resilient team,” said Fallon. “We knew that missing shots wasn’t going to knock us off our A-game. Our goal is a state championship this year and we’re really focused on that.”
While Maine West and New Trier struggled to put the ball in the basket, the same could not be said for the second game of the night which Loyola knock off Maine South by a score of 62-48.
Loyola got things started with a 25 point first quarter as they rained down three pointers from all areas of the court.
The hot shooting start forced Maine South to stretch out their defense which in turn allowed Julia Martinez (20 points, five assists) to get the basket at will as the Ramblers opened up a 39-22 halftime lead.
“It’s hard to play defense against us, you can help and we can kick to shooters, or do you not want to help and we’ll attack,” said Martinez. “When they started to stick to our shooters, it was just time for me to step up and go in for the layups and finish.”
Maine South cut Loyola’s lead down to single digits early in the second half thanks to a ridiculous shooting display from Nicole Scales (14 points), but the Hawks were never quite able to get over the hump, as Loyola maintained a safe 10 point cushion heading into the final quarter.
“Give Maine South a lot of credit, they were chasing but it’s not like they were bailing out on their plays,” said Loyola coach Jeremy Schoenecker. “They cut it to eight but I told the girls at the start of the fourth quarter, we didn’t blow a 17 point lead we’re still up 10 so relax and take some deep breaths here.”
Utilizing the lack of shot clock, Loyola went into a stall offense straight away and although they were never able to put the game away with authority, they never let Maine South within striking distance as they would coast to their 14 point victory.
Though beating Maine West this season has been a task that only one team has been able to accomplish thus far, Loyola is confident about their chances against the Warriors.
“We’re so excited, there are so many people saying that nobody can beat Maine West and how they only have one loss on the season,” said Martinez. “That talk just gets in our head and makes us want to go out and beat them even more. It’s definitely a winnable game for us, we just have to play our best game and it’s exciting.”
Loyola and Maine West will have their sectional showdown Thursday night at 7:00 at Maine East high school.