Evanston hands Montini first defeat
Losing is never fun, but there can be a silver lining -- it's what you learn from a loss.
Time will tell what the Montini girls basketball team will learn from a tight loss to Evanston in the late semifinal Saturday of the 11th annual Montini Christmas Tournament.
But to hear coach Jason Nichols tell it, what they learned, and will learn, from the 53-52 setback -- the Broncos' first loss of the season -- will be plenty.
"You know what, we got better today even though we lost," said Nichols, whose team fell to 16-1 and will play Benet in Monday's third-place game. "I'm proud of the kids, because I've been, as usual, their biggest critic and pretty tough on them.
"We've won a ton of games where I didn't think we got better, but we sure as (heck) got better today."
The Broncos reeled off a 9-2 run to start the fourth quarter and reverse a 39-35 deficit. That included a layup and a big 3-pointer from left of the top of the key with 5:28 to go by sophomore forward Taylor Charles.
That gave Montini a slim 42-39 lead, but that's when 6-foot-2 forward Ambrea Gentle, a Southeast Missouri State commit, went to work. She scored the 8 of Evanston's next 10 points -- despite playing with four fouls.
Gentle's layup with 20.6 seconds to go set the final score, but that was just the beginning of the drama.
After a pair of timeouts, Montini senior guard Sydney Prochaska inbounded the ball with five seconds left under Evanston's hoop. The ball ended up in the hands of sophomore guard Sophie Sullivan, who was fouled in the far right corner, in front of her own bench.
That gave her a 1-and-1, but she missed the front end. Evanston picked up a foul on the rebound, missed its own free throw and the clock ran out.
"We fought, we competed, we weren't perfect," Nichols said. "We had a couple of stretches where we lost kids when we shouldn't have, but hopefully we'll learn and grow by it.
"That's why we play the schedule we play, so we can get better and improve every day."
Early on, it looked like Montini would roll. Evanston made but one of its first 18 shots from the field. Meanwhile, Montini was racing out to a 16-7 lead early in the second quarter and took a 22-17 lead into the halftime locker room.
But Evanston shot substantially better in the third quarter, resulting in runs of 10-1 and 8-0. At its conclusion the Wildkits were up 39-35.
That's the time Charles picked to erupt. She hadn't scored at all in the first three quarters, and in fact took just two shots but did record a block. All that changed in the fourth when she scored 9.
Sullivan finished with 10 points, while fellow sophomore Tatiana Thomas had 9 and 7 rebounds, as did freshman Maddie Saracco. Gentle led Evanston with 22 points.
Count Evanston coach Brittany Johnson among those who are impressed with the young Broncos.
"It's so hard to play here because they are such a well-coached team," Johnson said. "Jason always has them really prepared."