When playing three-time defending Class 3A champion Montini, an off shooting night can spell trouble.
With their defense at peak intensity, the top-seeded Broncos stormed to a 58-29 victory against Glenbard South at Thursday's Nazareth girls basketball sectional final in LaGrange Park.
"We came out ready to bury them already," Broncos 6-foot-4 senior Malayna Johnson said. "We didn't want to make it a close game right away."
"We felt the one advantage we had was that we play a tough schedule where we play at a really high pace," added Montini coach Jason Nichols, "and we wanted them to play at our speed because we felt like they would rush their shots and get them a little erratic."
It worked. The Raiders (22-8) missed their first 10 shots before junior Tomei Ball hit with 1:40 left in the first quarter, but not before Montini (33-1) had built a 13-0 lead. By halftime Montini led 33-14, and the Raiders had made just 6 of 34 shots.
"You can't get down against a team like Montini," said Raiders coach Julie Fonda, whose team was appearing in its first sectional final. "They just have too many weapons, too many opportunities to score. We had an off shooting night. We can't shoot like that and beat a team like Montini. We have to have four quarters of good basketball. They're a great team."
"Our whole goal was to get a lead early and shake their confidence a little bit," Nichols said. "But they played hard. Julie's a great coach, and those kids play hard because of her."
Glenbard South was facing an uphill battle with just one day of practice to prepare for the state's top team.
"I said that to the girls last night when we started practice," Fonda said. "Our attempt right now is to prepare to beat the best team in the state of Illinois across all four classes. It was definitely a mountain to climb, but they were all for it.
"Game plan-wise, they didn't do a bad job executing, we just had an off night shooting. In all honesty if even some of those shots fall it's a totally different ballgame because the momentum doesn't shift totally their way."
With junior guard Kateri Stone sitting out the game with a high ankle sprain, freshman guard Lea Kerstein led the effort to pick up the slack, scoring a game-best 12 points.
"Lea's a pretty darned good player," Nichols said. "... For a freshman she's pretty darned good. She looks like she's in fourth grade, that's the best part. People are like, who's this kid. Now she's starting to prove who she is."
Sara Ross and Kelly Karlis added 10 points apiece for Montini, which won its ninth consecutive sectional title.
"It doesn't get old," Johnson said with a smile. "Not at all."
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