St. Viator girls basketball coach Christina Jost and her players knew they were going up against a quality team in Marist on Saturday afternoon at the Cahill Gymnasium.
So what better way to tune up for a Class 3A regional next Tuesday?
"We kind of took that mindset," Jost said after the talented Redhawks came away with a 76-39 victory in the East Suburban Catholic Conference finale. "We knew Marist (21-9, 7-3) was a very good team and obviously well-coached.
"So we were using it as a good way to prepare for the state tournament. I don't see us playing teams as tough as them early on, so hopefully this will help us."
The underdog Lions didn't hold back for a minute.
In fact, even trailing by a big margin at the end, St. Viator junior guard Erin Fabbri was still diving for balls.
Unfortunately, midway through the final quarter, she hit the floor hard and had to leave the game when she hit her cheekbone while diving for a ball near the end of the Lions bench.
"She is going to have an X-ray," Jost said. "She's such a tough kid. She doesn't think for a moment about not diving for a ball on the floor. That's the mark of her true leadership all season."
Fabbri scored a team-high 19 points and grabbed 7 rebounds for the Lions (14-16, 0-9).
St. Viator was right in the game after one quarter.
A steal and layup by senior Jennie Horstmann got the Lions to within 16-12 after trailing 8-2 less than three minutes into the game.
Senior Michelle Presslak's 6-foot bank shot cut the deficit to 18-14 after one quarter.
Horstmann also had a 3-pointer in the first quarter and another one with 23 seconds left in the first half as she connected on her first three shots of the game and finished with 10 points.
"Jennie came out with a hot hand," Jost said. "Her shots were on."
But Marist made 11 shots in the second quarter to pull away to a 44-25 halftime lead.
Converting the most shots for the Redhawks was Marquette recruit JeTaun Rouse, a 5-foot-8 senior guard who finished with a game-high 24 points, 18 in the first half.
"She's a very good player," Jost said. "We just didn't have an answer for her. It was almost fun just watching her out there.
"Our kids were definitely trying to limit her touches but she is going to get her points."
Presslak and sophomore Jessica Hohlweg each added 4 points for the Lions while junior Didi Aburaad also had a bucket.
Jost was a little short on depth without the services of senior Samy Stanley (college visit) and sophomore Maddie McAteer (recovering from injury finger).
Marist is enjoying its ninth 20-win in 11 seasons under coach Mary Pat Connolly. The Redhawks' only conference losses are to powerful Marian Catholic, Fenwick and Benet.
"It's good we play tough teams like this in our conference," Horstmann said. "It should make us ready to play with other top teams. Marist is always good. They box out real well and always get those second rebounds. Rebounding was the major reason we lost this game."
Connolly also received 17 points from 5-10 senior forward Leah Bolton, an Illinois recruit.
"We were just looking for a solid effort with help-side defense and man-to-man defense," Connolly said "We wanted to be right in their faces. That was the goal of every players we brought into the game.
"St. Viator is always solid with its effort on the court. You can never take them lightly because of their work ethic. They have a nice solid team, like everyone in our conference."
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