Downers Grove North reaches Sweet Sixteen for first time
Going where no Downers Grove North girls basketball team has gone before -- but also not ready to stop yet.
The second-seeded Trojans used a lockdown defense and timely shooting to knock off Nazareth Academy 45-31 Monday night to advance to the Class 4A Proviso West sectional title game against No. 1 Whitney Young, which won a lopsided game with Argo. With the win the 28-6 Trojans earn a berth in the sectional final for the first time.
Downers Grove North held the Roadrunners (21-13) to just two points in the first quarter and led 16-11 at the half after limiting Nazareth to just 4-for-18 shooting over the first two quarters. With the trio of Ellie Gross, Ryann Wendt and Alexis Parker all playing well in the third quarter, the Trojans used a 14-7 period to build a 30-18 lead that proved to be too much for Nazareth to overcome against a stingy defense.
"We pride ourselves on defense," said Gross, a senior guard who excelled all over the court. "To get those stops against Naz, a really good team, was great for us. We really played well defensively tonight."
Gross did her best to hold Roadrunners senior guard Kaylen Evans to 11 points in the game on 4-for-15 shooting and also made sure her opponents didn't get many second chances. The 5-foot-7 Gross hustled and positioned her way into 13 rebounds to go along with 13 points and a pair of steals.
"She's a beast. She does everything," Trojans coach Stephan Bolt said of his team leader. "Defensively, on Evans ... I didn't have to take her off (for a spell). She wanted the challenge.
"I don't know how she does it on both ends of the floor every night. To be our primary ballhandler and playmaker, and to defend a team's best player with that kind of energy like all the time. She does a great job for us."
But it was truly a team effort. Wendt knocked down a pair of 3-pointers in the low-scoring first half and was solid on both ends in the second half while finishing the game with 13 points and 6 boards.
Parker had three big baskets in the crucial third quarter and finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds. On top of that, four players blocked shots for Downers North, with Eleanor Harris swatting away two Roadrunners attempts.
"Defense is first. We just wanted to try and come out and shut them down defensively," Wendt said. "We want to keep strong defensively because Whitney Young is real strong and we just want to play the way we've been playing both offensively and defensively."
If the Trojans put together another defensive gem on Thursday, the team may just continue to head into unchartered territory.
"I try to be as true to my word as I can. We lost to a better team," said Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel, whose program claimed Class 3A trophies the last two years before getting bumped to Class 4A this season. "They're much more physical than us. They really locked down our perimeter game. Coach Bolt did just a tremendous job locking down our shooters. Disappointing end, but we lost to a better team."