'Underdog' Loyola tips Titans to reach sectional final
Loyola Academy and "underdogs" are rarely part of the same sentence.
Yet that's what senior guard Angelina Giordano tells us of the Ramblers, 30-3 entering Thursday's Class 4A Glenbrook South sectional championship.
"This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for us, but we kind of proved everyone wrong," she said.
"We just built off last year's team, and we wanted to impact for ourselves, for our coaches and for our whole team. We just wanted to show everyone how we can play to the best of our abilities."
They were on display Tuesday at the Titan Dome in Glenview. Seeded No. 1 in the sectional, Loyola beat No. 4 Glenbrook South 51-34 to advance to Thursday's 7 p.m. sectional championship against No. 2 Maine South, a 43-41 winner over Evanston in Tuesday's nightcap.
Loyola sophomore Paige Engels, who attended Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, scored a career-high 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the floor and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line. The guard -- nearly every Rambler is a guard, more on that later -- added 9 rebounds and 3 steals.
"All week the coaches have just been telling me I need to do what I know how to do and start taking the ball to the hoop. I just did it today and it worked out," said Engles, a key to Loyola's first 30-win season since 2005.
Loyola senior Morgan Van Horn and sophomore Kelsey Langston added 10 points apiece. Glenbrook South freshman Gina Davorija scored 13 points with 7 rebounds.
"We've got high-character people that are good players. It's sad to see it end, but it happens," Titans coach Scott Nemecek said.
Glenbrook South (20-9) looked like it had something going early with 6-foot-2 sophomore Anna Rosenberger, whose putback basket gave the Titans a 12-11 lead after one quarter.
Nemecek said it "would be criminal" not to try to capitalize on the height of players like Rosenberger and the 5-foot-10 duo of senior Megan Flentye and sophomore Chloe Gonzalez.
After that, however, Loyola's 5-guard attack turned the ball over just 2 more times -- 4 total -- and had several scoring streaks that stung Glenbrook South. If there was a loose ball, particularly near the floor, chances are it went the Ramblers' way.
"I think, in general, they just had a lot more energy than us on defense," said Titans junior point guard Sidney Rogers, who Van Horn did a great job bottling up through film study before the game.
Starting with a Van Horn 3 and ending with a three-point play by Engels, Loyola scored the first 8 points of the second quarter.
A late rush by Davorija and Gonzalez had Glenbrook South within 25-21 at halftime, then Engels keyed a 16-7 third-quarter run to lift the Ramblers to a 41-29 lead after three quarters.
Coach Jeremy Schoenecker's crew passed the ball around the perimeter until they found a teammate cutting to the basket to score or pass back out for an open shot, creating half-court 2-on-1 scenarios.
"Pulling (the ball) out allows us to attack one of their players who can't really guard a guard, and then dish it to our shooters in the corner," Van Horn said.
Offensively, Glenbrook South was unable to find the same success.
"Credit to them, they're very good at what they do -- half-court man defense," Nemecek said. "We ran through a variety of sets, we ran through some continuity offenses, we also tried to run no offense where we just kind of flow. Sometimes it worked a little bit, sometimes it didn't."
A second-chance 3 by Rogers had Glenbrook South within 45-32 with 4:09 left to play, but an inside score by Engels and 2 Langston free throws pushed the margin to 17, where it stood.
Loyola will shoot for its 20th sectional title, while Glenbrook South had to be satisfied with its 14th regional title and the promise of next season.
"We're only losing four seniors," Rogers said of Flentye, twins Anna and Molly Durow, and Sophia Kanellos.
"Obviously they're key players," Rogers said, "but still, to only lose four of them is really good because then we have a lot of people coming back. I'm pretty sure four of our starters are coming back, key players also, so that's helpful. Just a lot of potential."