Carmel upends St. Viator, will play for sectional title

 
By Bobby Narang
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 2/22/2022 9:34 PM

Carmel junior guard Jordan Wood found herself all alone at the free-throw line late in Tuesday's game.

After sinking her first free throw, the Michigan State recruit, though, was quickly joined by her four teammates for a brief moment of celebration.

 

Wood scored a game-high 24 points to lead top-seeded Carmel to its third victory over St. Viator, a 49-43 triumph in a Class 3A Grayslake Central sectional girls basketball semifinal.

Even though Wood supplied the bulk of the scoring, the Corsairs relied on a collective effort on both ends to knock off the Lions.

The 6-foot-5 Wood, one of the top juniors in the country, sealed the sweep over the Lions (20-13) by hitting 4 free throws in the final 25 seconds. From her opening attempt, Wood was hitting shots from all over the court, scoring 11 of Carmel's first 16 points to set up a sectional title game against and Deerfield on Thursday.

Wood added 2 3-pointers and 7 rebounds to help the Corsairs (24-7) avenge a 3A sectional championship loss to the Lions three years ago.

"It started in shootaround, when I started hitting my shots, so I knew I was feeling good," Wood said. "My teammates set me up for some nice shots. This win feels amazing, especially since it was against our rival. This is our third win over them in three weeks. It was a great win."

Six-foot-4 Carmel senior center Grace Sullivan, a Bucknell recruit, tossed in 6 points and grabbed 9 rebounds to go with a pair of blocked shots. The Wood-Sullivan combination, along with 6-1 Mia Gillis (7 points), was problematic for the Lions, who struggled getting clean looks due to Carmel's size.

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St. Viator senior guard Joy Bergstrom, the all-time leading scorer in program history and South Dakota recruit, was a one-team force for most of the game. She scored a game-high 29 points, hitting 3 3s and picking up 7 rebounds.

"With their height, I feel they're a matchup problem with almost anybody in the state, but especially for us," St. Viator coach Jason Raymond said of Carmel. "We're more guard-oriented, but it's something we had to mitigate throughout the game. It was the third time we played them, so we experimented the first two times we played with what worked and didn't work.

"Our decision tonight was to pack it in, but unfortunately, we didn't shoot the ball as well as we could, but the girls gave us a chance to win the game at the end. You have to shoot the ball well against a team like Carmel because they do a good job defensively and are big."

The Corsairs pulled away in the second quarter, limiting the Lions to one shot on most possessions, while getting five straight points from Wood in an 11-0 run that turned a 14-11 deficit to a 22-14 lead late in the half.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Lions could never recover from the second-quarter spree by Carmel, relying on Bergstrom to carry them during stretches but they couldn't match Carmel's overall size and depth.

"We played them two times in three days, and a third time in about less than three weeks, but we knew it would be a different game," Carmel coach Ben Berg said. "They had more prep time for this game, and did a good job slowing the game down. I'm proud of my kids on how they handled pressure and made some free throws down the stretch. We hang our heads on defense. That's what we've done a lot better in the last five weeks, and why we're winning."

The Lions, who have won eight regional titles since 2002, enter a new era with the graduation of Bergstrom and senior point guard Nora Ahram (8 points). The two four-year starters won three regional titles and a sectional championship in an illustrious career.

"Joy and Nora are tough guards for anybody and tremendous competitors and really good friends and play well together on the court," Raymond said. "It's been awesome to coach two dynamic players like that who can shoot it and get to the rack. They're special players."

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