It's back to state for No. 1 Maine West
Maine West's girls basketball coach Kim de Marigny said Monday's game was a little less trying than the sectional championship overtime win last week.
"A little more breathing room," she said.
Before a huge crowd in the Palatine gymnasium and hardly any breathing room in the tightly-packed Warriors student section, Maine West broke on top 15-4 and never looked back en route to 53-34 triumph in the Class 4A Palatine supersectional.
For the second time in program history, the Warriors will head to the state finals with an undefeated record.
The last time, 1988, resulted in a state championship trophy.
Maine West (33-0) will face Rockton Hononegah (33-4) in Friday's 7:15 p.m. semifinal at Illinois State's Redbird Arena. Maine West finished third in Class 4A last season.
Junior Angela Dugalic scored a game-high 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds to lead West to its ninth supersectional win.
Dugalic's layup with 7:04 left in the third quarter gave West a 31-15 lead. The advantage grew to 34-19 on a 3-pointer from Vanessa Reyes (13 points).
But Lake Forest (27-8) made its best charge of the game and pulled to within 34-26 on a 16-footer by Grace Tirzmalis with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
"That sort of scared us because we were really on a roll and then all of a sudden it stopped," Dugalic said. "We have to keep executing our plays. We can't stop and fall under pressure."
The Warriors, though, sensing the Scouts' rally, got back on track with a driving bank shot by Reyes, a 3-point play by Dugalic, a 3-pointer by Jocelyn Jacob and a fastbreak layup by Reyes extending the lead back to 44-26 heading into the final quarter.
Reyes credited Monday's victory to the close call with Evanston last Thursday.
"Evanston prepared us for this game today," she said. "Maybe we felt a little too comfortable with Evanston because we had beaten them twice. They showed us a fight so that helped is great ready for this game."
"Our game plan was to put pressure on their perimeter so they could not get the open looks they want," de Marigny said. "We really tried to stress all week in practice to get a hand in their faces."
Rachel Kent's defense stood out in slowing down the Scouts' offense led by Halle Douglass (10 points) and Tirzmalis (9).
"Rachel (5 points, 5 rebounds) is one of the best defenders in the state," de Marigny said. "And she is smart. Halle Douglass has been ranked one of the top players in the state and rightly so."
Dylan Van Fleet added 8 points, 7 steals and 6 assists for West.
Maine West defeated a Lake Forest team that was the first at its school, boys or girls, to win a sectional.
But Lake Forest coach Kyle Wilhelm said they hadn't seen a team like the Warriors all season.
"That's safe to say," he said. "They play fast. They take you out of the things you want to do and they make their shots."
The Scout were without senior starter Ellie Pearson, who played a key role in last week's wins over Libertyville and Fremd. She suffered an unexpected injury and did not make the contest.
"Unfortunately she couldn't be with us," Wilhelm said. "We had a great season. The kids should be proud of what they did. Maine West has been downstate before and they're a real darn good team."
Douglass said the Scouts knew they had to play 32 minutes of near-perfect basketball.
"We knew we had to play so hard for 32 minutes," said the granddaughter of former Bears quarterback Bobby Douglass. "They're a great team and I think they'll go far in state.
"It's their length and their pressure, They really got us out of what we wanted to do. In the first half, their press startled us. We started to figure it out but then they play great half-court defense, too. I think their defense is amazing."
It's been an amazing run for the Warriors, who have lost only two games the last two years.
"I dreamed a lot about this," Reyes said about going downstate. "And what a team to go down there with."
Once they got past the mini-scare in the third quarter, it was clear sailing.
"Our kids don't like to be behind," de Marigny said. "So I think they looked at the scoreboard (when lead was down to 8) and said 'oh' what's happening. Then they just turned it up a notch or two. I wish they wouldn't turn it down, though. It would make my heart feel better if they just continued at the same speed all the time."