In a season full of inconsistencies a common theme may have finally emerged, and that is no team is safe in the class 4A state playoffs.
Tuesday night’s action was no exception, as top seeded Montini and second seed Benet had to overcome late deficits in order to advance to the sectional finals.
The first game of the night featured top ranked Montini, who got caught in a battle with Kenwood, only narrowly avoiding the upset with a 45-39.
“There’s so much scouting now everybody know everything that you just have to grind some things out,” said Montini head coach Jason Nichols. “It comes down to the little things, do you get rebounds, do you make free throws and do you get 50/50 balls and that’s what happens.”
Kenwood came out of the gates calm, and full of confidence while Montini struggled in nearly every aspect in the game in the first half.
Though Kenwood was not exactly lighting up the scoreboard either, by dictating the pace of play, they forced Kenwood into uncomfortable situations while their offense led by Joanie Johnson (12 points, six rebounds and four assists) did just enough to jump out to a 22-13 halftime lead.
Despite their numerous struggles, Montini found a way crawl their way back into the game starting by picking up the pace.
After being held to just two points in the first half, Aaliyah Patty had an eight point outburst in the third quarter which included two three pointers.
Patty was complimented by fellow senior Lindsey Jarosinski (11 points, six rebounds, three blocks) to turn a nine point deficit into a 29-29 tie at the end of three quarters.
Montini really started to roll in the fourth quarter as they jumped out to a six point lead within minutes. Kenwood would rally and cut the deficit back down to one point, but a dagger three pointer and some clutch free throws from Samantha Mitchell, who was playing in her first game in nearly a month, sealed the game for Montini.
“I’ve always been a big fan of pressure and when I know it’s important and when the game is coming down to it, we find a way to win,” said Mitchell. “It’s not just one person, it’s all of us, and we find a way and I knew I needed to hit it at the time and that’s what I did.”
Punching their ticket into the sectional finals along with Montini was Benet, who came away with a 66-65 win over Whitney Young courtesy of a Tsimba Malonga free throw with just three seconds remaining.
“When you get to this point of the season, everybody is good and rarely is there a blowout,” said Benet head coach Joe Kilbride. “You’re going to have a bad four or five minutes and you can’t fall apart, but I thought we did a great job of battling back and keeping our composure.”
Both teams traded punches right from the beginning. Whitney Young had the upper hand early behind eight first quarter points from junior guard Kyla Jones for a 14-11 first quarter lead.
Benet responded soon after, putting up 24 points behind their own junior in Lauren Stack to take a six point lead into halftime.
“Lauren had it going,” said Kilbride. “We shifted her around in practice lately to get some juice back in her legs. She hasn’t been 100% lately but she had it going and it was nice to see.”
“I hit my first one and got hot,” added Stack. “Sometimes you have one of those nights and that happened for me today.”
Both Jones (31 points), and Stack (19 points, five rebounds) continued to lead their teams offense after the halftime break, but neither were able to do enough to break the game wide open.
Midway through the fourth quarter it looked as though Whitney Young started to gain control of the game, leading by as many as six points with under four minutes to play, but senior Tsimba Malonga stepped up down the stretch.
With time winding down, Malonga put the pressure back on Whitney Young, by forcing a turnover for a breakaway layup. After Jones scored the game tying layup, Malonga forced the issue again, drawing a foul to send her to the free throw line with just three seconds to play.
Malonga coolly stepped up to the line and drained one of two free throws, which was more than enough to keep Benet’s playoff run alive.
Kilbride said: “You know, Tsimba has had a bumpy road this year, so it was really nice to see her have an opportunity to have an impact on the game like that.”
“It’s my senior year, so I was just going all out.” said Malonga. “I would do whatever for this team to get the win, if that means sitting on the bench, getting water for team, so be it. I made the shot when the game was on the line and I just want to see this team win.”
Montini and Benet will only have one day to prepare for each other, as they will play for a sectional title Thursday at 7:00.