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Scouting the 3A semifinal: Montini vs. Burlington Central
 

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Scouting the 3A semifinal: Montini vs. Burlington Central
  • Burlington Central’s Shelby Holt (12) works through the Carmel defense at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates supersectional.

    Purchase Photo | Burlington Central’s Shelby Holt (12) works through the Carmel defense at the Class 3A Hoffman Estates supersectional. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

  • Montini’s Sara Ross, center, moves through the De La Salle defense in Class 3A supersectional action at Hinsdale Central.

    Purchase Photo | Montini’s Sara Ross, center, moves through the De La Salle defense in Class 3A supersectional action at Hinsdale Central. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 

Class 3A State Finals

Where: Redbird Arena, Normal

Story Continues Below

Friday's matchups: Montini (32-2) vs. Burlington Central (27-4), 12:15 p.m.; Joliet Catholic (27-2) vs. Quincy Notre Dame (29-3), 2 p.m.

Montini vs. Burlington CentralHow they got here: Montini defeated Noble Street Charter/Rauyner 85-6 and Payton 76-22 to win the Little Village regional; defeated Nazareth 70-44 and Marshall 54-31 to win the Glenbard South sectional; defeated De La Salle 59-27 to win the Hinsdale Central supersectional. Burlington Central defeated Hampshire 59-35 and St. Edward 43-35 to win the Aurora Central regional; defeated Sycamore 42-28 and Rockford Lutheran 55-41 to win the Belvidere sectional; defeated Carmel 41-29 to win the Hoffman Estates supersectional.

Coaches: Montini -- Jason Nichols (14th year, 395-70; 11th year at Montini, 327-48). Burlington Central -- Mark Smith (2nd year, 54-9).

Outlook: It's the perennial power against the new kids on the block in the first semifinal as the state-tested Broncos take on a Burlington Central team making the school's first trip to an IHSA state final basketball tournament.

But don't think for a minute Montini coach Jason Nichols is putting much stock in that, especially after his team was upset by Vernon Hills in last year's semifinal, preventing the Broncos from competing for their fourth straight state title.

"Losing in the semifinal last year is now our roadblock and our motivator," Nichols said Thursday prior to his team's shootaround at Redbird. "Our whole thing was getting back down here and now that we're here we take it head on and that's Burlington Central. That's our primary focus. We haven't even talked about Joliet Catholic or Quincy Notre Dame."

On paper, there's no question the Broncos would be heavy favorites. They have played and conquered a monster schedule, losing only to Wheaton Warrenville South early in the season and Whitney Young Jan. 31. In fact, Montini has defeated Rolling Meadows and Marian Catholic, two of the Class 4A Final Four qualifiers.

But again, Nichols puts little stock in the past.

"They said we were the favorites last year and we lost in the semifinals. You never know down here," he said. "One thing we said this year is don't take it for granted. Hopefully that will put us in a position to beat Burlington Central and play for the title."

One of the greatest intangibles Montini has is state experience. This is the Broncos' fifth straight trip to Redbird and sixth in the last seven years, and that's something Nichols hopes works in his team's favor.

"I hope there's some truth to that," he said regarding the advantage of having state experience. "I'd like to feel we're comfortable here but you never know."

Montini has been led all season by the senior trio of 6-2 Kelly Carlis (9.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 42 3-pointers), 6-foot Kateri Stone (11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 93 3-pointers), a AP first-team all-stater, and 5-11 Sara Ross (7.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg). All three are Division I recruits with Karlis headed to Ohio University, Stone to Colgate and Ross to Indiana-Purdue (IUPUI). Montini is 136-10 since those three joined the program four years ago.

Montini also starts 5-11 junior Kelsey Bogdan (4.2 ppg) and 6-1 junior Rainey Kuykendall (7.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Sophomores Lea Kerstein (5.6 ppg, 41 3-pointers), Claire Jakaitis (5.8 ppg) and Paulina Castro (2.5 ppg) along with freshmen Nikki Oppenheimer (2.8 ppg) and Kayee Bambule (3.5 ppg) have seen significant time off the bench.

Slowing down Montini's attack on both ends of the floor will be key to competing with the Broncos, says BC coach Mark Smith.

"We have to take care of the basketball and try to slow them down," he said after his team's shootaround Thursday. "They push the ball really well, they make you make mistakes, they run the floor and they have kids who can shoot the 3.

While Smith has great respect for the state's No. 1 ranked team he also says, "They're not the '27 Yankees. Obviously they're a great team with experience and a great coach. There are so many distractions here and when the ball goes up I'm sure there will be some nervous feelings. Hopefully we work through those quickly.

"We're happy to be here and proud of what we've done and we're ready to let loose. We have to get our laser-beam focus back. We're down here to win a state championship."

Nichols likes what he sees from the young Rockets, who have just one senior on the team. BC will start 6-foot junior Alison Colby (8.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg), 6-foot sophomore Sam Pryor (14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 55 3-pointers), a second-team AP all-stater, 5-8 sophomore Shelby Holt (8.5 ppg, 47 3-pointers), 5-7 sophomore Kayla Ross (7.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and 5-7 sophomore Sam Cruz (3.0 ppg). Junior Aly DeTamble (3.8 ppg) and sophomore Becca Gerke (5.5 ppg. 2.9 rpg) are the Rockets' top players off the bench.

"Holt and Pryor … you gotta guard them," Nichols said. "When Holt's hot, she's hot; you gotta guard her. Colby is real solid and Ross is their energizer kid. They're kind of like us. They share the ball real well, they play together and their defense is really good. They've got five kids who can shut you down. And what do they have to lose? They should be loose. I like how they play, they're getting better and they feel good about themselves. Anything can happen. I just don't buy into we're the favorite. Any of the four teams can win it."

If the Rockets have any advantage it's that they have been pushed more down the stretch than Montini. While BC's average margin of victory in the postseason is just under 13, Montini's is 42. The Broncos have won nine straight since the Young loss with no team coming closer than 23. BC, meanwhile, has won 12 in a row since losing to Fremd at the McDonald's Shootout on Jan. 18.

"It's something we've thought about," Nichols said of the lack of challenges in the postseason. "The Marshall game we got tested and did some good stuff. Let's wait and see. A couple of my assistants have talked about that so let's wait and see."

-- John Radtke

Burlington Central (27-4)Central 69, Larkin 46

Central 59, CL Central 16

Central 41, Sycamore 37

Central 58, Harlem 52

Central 69, Rock Falls 25

Central 47, Hampshire 36

Central 41, Rockford Christian 35

Central 71, Genoa 26

Central 77, Harvard 30

Mother McAuley 57, Central 41

Central 56, Dundee-Crown 44

Central 53, St. Charles N. 47

Maine South 44, Central 38

Central 51, Richmond 28

Central 80, North Boone 27

Central 54, Kaneland 33

South Elgin 47, Central 45

Central 35, Rockford Christian 34

Fremd 55, Central 35

Central 53, Richmond 24

Central 63, Genoa 29

Central 63, Marengo 19

Central 71, North Boone 39

Central 57, Marengo 28

Central 76, Harvard 25

Central 50, Glenbard West 34

Central 59, Hampshire 35

Central 43, St. Edward 35

Central 42, Sycamore 28

Central 55, Rockford Lutheran 41

Central 41, Carmel 29

Montini (32-2)Montini 61, Boylan 46

Montini 61, Schaumburg 19

Montini 82, St. Charles East 43

Montini 70, Glenbrook South 40

WW South 48, Montini 43

Montini 61, St. Edward 39

Montini 58, ACC 21

Montini 84, Walther Christian 22

Montini 55, Moline 42

Montini 68, Hononegah 40

Montini 68, Sterling 26

Montini 55, Fenwick 33

Montini 77, Oak Park 40

Montini 58, Fremd 51

Montini 52, Marian Catholic 48

Montini 66, Rolling Meadows 63

Montini 75, Rosary 28

Montini 69, Guerin 20

Montini 54, Evanston 26

Montini 77, St. Edward 43

Montini 69, Guerin 21

Montini 56, Bolingbrook 40

Montini 80, ACC 31

Montini 66, St. Francis 36

Whitney Young 54, Montini 45

Montini 68, Rosary 37

Montini 76, Walther Christian 26

Montini 75, Hinsdale Central 48

Montini 66, Wheaton Academy 23

Montini 85, Rauner 6

Montini 76, Payton 22

Montini 70, Nazareth 44

Montini 54, Marshall 31

Montini 59, DeLaSalle 27

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