St. Edward may not have been smooth from start to finish Monday night, but at this time of the season it's all about getting the job done.
And the Green Wave did just that.
Shaking off a lackluster first quarter, St. Edward dominated the final three quarters and notched a 54-34 win over Chicago Latin in the semifinals of the Class 2A Westminster Christian girls basketball sectional.
The Green Wave (21-7) will take on the winner of tonight's game between Timothy Christian and Walther Lutheran at 7:30 p.m. Thursday for the sectional championship and a spot in next Monday's Willowbrook supersectional. It's St. Edward's second shot at a sectional title in the last three years. The Wave lost to Bishop McNamara in 2009 at Plano.
Monday's win was also a landmark of sorts for St. Edward. Having secured its first 20-win season under seventh-year coach Michelle Dawson with last week's regional title victory over Westminster, this St. Edward team has now won more games in a season than any Green Wave squad since 2000-01.
But Monday's win didn't come without some early nervous moments.
Independent School League champion Latin (20-10) came out energized and behind the spirited play of junior Nikki Dizon, who had 7 of her game-high 20 points in the first quarter as the Romans jumped ahead 13-7. St. Edward shot just 3 of 11 in the first 8 minutes with several good looks rimming in and out.
"I thought we had a little bit of jitters coming in and the rims here are kind of tight," said Dawson. "But everybody settled in and we got back to our normal flow of things."
But now before they fell behind 17-8 early in the second quarter. But then, like a match to gasoline, the Green Wave caught fire. A free throw by Katherine Von Ahnen with 5:45 left in the half sparked a 9-0 run that brought St. Edward into a 17-17 tie after 2 free throws from Enza Ranallo with 2:04 to go in the second. Latin grabbed another brief lead on a 3-pointer from Dizon, before St. Edward scored the final 6 points of the quarter to grab a 23-20 lead at the break.
"Our kids came to play. They were relaxed and they came out to have fun and let it all hang out on the court," said Latin coach Max Rouse, whose team lost for the fourth straight year in the sectional semifinals. "Give St. Ed's credit for stepping it up in the second quarter and then really taking control in the third quarter. They're a nice team. Very balanced and well-coached."
Latin did start the third quarter with 4 quick points to grab a 24-23 lead but Callie Johnson (13 points) scored with 6:44 to go in the third to make it 25-24 and the Green Wave were on their way to the sectional title game. Leading 31-28 with 5:15 left in the third the Wave's defense created a 9-0 run that made it a 40-30 game after three quarters. Latin never got closer.
"Our defense won the game for us tonight," said Dawson, whose team forced Latin into 23 turnovers. "I'm really proud of the defensive effort, especially Callie Johnson and Kelly Tripicchio. And Katherine Von Ahnen and Paige Gannon came off the bench with a big presence."
St. Edward, which finished shooting 21 of 48, outrebounded Latin 39-25. Gannon had 8 rebounds while Maddie Kerr and Enza Ranallo had 6 each and Rena Ranallo 5. Enza Ranallo led the Wave with 16 points and 6 steals.
"We came out strong but our shots weren't falling," said Enza Ranallo. "But by the end of the half we were taking it strong to the hoop and executing. Coach told us we had to get on the boards so we got on the boards and started pushing the ball up the floor."