Benet beats Nazareth for ESCC title
The East Suburban Catholic Conference is once again among the best for girls basketball in the area, and perhaps even the state.
That's what makes Benet's conference championship that much sweeter.
The Redwings traveled to LaGrange Park on Monday to take on host Nazareth. Win, and the title was theirs. Lose, and Benet would have to hope for a Nazareth loss to Joliet Catholic on Wednesday.
No need to sweat. The Redwings got 11 points and 17 rebounds from senior forward Ashley Konkle and a huge second quarter from junior guard Kendall Holmes -- 13 points and a trio of 3-pointers -- to prevail 55-50.
"We have a great league, and Marist and Naz this year are top-10 teams, and so it's especially nice to get it in a year when the league is pretty good," Benet coach Joe Kilbride said. "It is a great win."
Nazareth star and Harvard recruit Annie Stritzel led all scorers with 22 points, but she was contained in the first half defensively by Holmes and junior forward Lexi Moriarty, who allowed her just 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field.
Meanwhile, Holmes did plenty of damage of her own in the second quarter, which essentially allowed the Redwings (23-5, 7-0) to pull away. She connected on three straight 3-pointers in the space of roughly two minutes, including the last one that banked in off the glass and gave Benet a 33-25 lead.
Holmes said the formula was simple.
"My teammates were just hitting me, and I was knocking them down," she said. "We were feeding off the energy of the rest of our players. Our bench was great tonight, and I think everybody fed off that energy."
"When you're banking in 3s, it's time for a heat check," Kilbride added with a laugh. "She had it going, and the kids did a really nice job of finding her when she got it going. She's been really good for us."
Of course, it helps when there is a size advantage and aggressiveness under the boards. The Redwings took care of business on the glass, outrebounding Nazareth 37-16. Konkle did an especially solid job on the offensive end, grabbing 6 boards of her 17 total.
"Coach said before the game that this is a team we should be able to get a lot of boards on," Konkle said. "Especially with my size, I just kind of had the mindset that if I'm not scoring, I have to be getting rebounds for this team.
Nazareth (24-3, 5-1), and especially Stritzel, put Benet to the test in the third quarter. The Roadrunners put up an 11-0 run, led off by Stritzel's second 3 of the evening. She added a three-point play and a spin move in the lane for a layup with 44.7 seconds left that cut Benet's lead to 39-36.
But the Redwings went 8 for 11 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, including 4 for 4 for Holmes. The best Nazareth could do was a pair of 3-pointers from the left corner by Laila Rodriguez, the second one with 22.4 seconds left.
Shooting-wise, the teams were nearly even; Benet shot 40 percent, while the Roadrunners checked in at 36 percent.
"We're disappointed with the outcome, but the kids played hard," Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said. "Benet's really good, and we're really good, and it was a great game for girls basketball, I thought. I told the girls our goal is to get downstate and hopefully this will pay off in the end."