Carmel savors its first trip to state finals
Grace Sullivan and Mia Gillis formed an unbeatable combination on Monday night.
Carmel junior guard Jordan Wood's immense talent and potential causes her to receive the bulk of the attention. The 6-foot-5 Wood's lofty national ranking and commitment to Michigan State is part of her growing rep.
But Sullivan and Gillis supplied the majority of the scoring and rebounding against Sycamore in the Class 3A Dundee-Crown Supersectional.
Sullivan scored 16 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, dished out 4 assists and blocked 4 shots, while Gillis contributed 13 points and 12 rebounds to carry Carmel to a 49-37 victory to advance to the program's first state appearance.
The Corsairs (26-7) won their sixth game in a row to advance to the state semifinals, where they will play Bethalto Civic Memorial at 10 a.m. on Friday at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Ella Shipley paced the Spartans with 13 points, hitting 2 3-pointers, but the Spartans couldn't build any momentum besides their brief two-plus minute run in the fourth quarter.
Sullivan, a Bucknell recruit, said the intense game was a culmination of a long buildup following the sectional championship win over Deerfield.
"I was so nervous the entire day and was so anxious, but I knew that energy would come out eventually in a good way," Sullivan said. "From the start, I knew I was going to have a good game, and the team picked me up. This has been a goal of mine since freshman year."
The Spartans (32-3) entered the game with quality wins over Fremd, Geneva, Nazareth and Bolingbrook, but they struggled with Carmel's height and athleticism. The Spartans managed just 4 points in the first quarter and trailed 19-8 at halftime.
The Spartans made four out of five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to slice the deficit to 42-37, but they missed their final six 3s, while Carmel made 7 free throws in the final 73 seconds to punch a ticket to Normal.
"They're a huge team," Sycamore coach Adam Wickness said. "We knew we had to control the paint but they did a good job of controlling the paint in the first half. We held them to 19 points in the first half, but we only scored eight. I can't even remember a quarter where we scored single digits in a quarter this season."
The Corsairs overcame a sluggish game by Wood (2 points, 5 rebounds) thanks to contributions up and down the lineup. Sophomore guard Ashley Schlabowske finished with 7 points, including five straight points -- Eurostep layup and a 3-pointer -- early in the fourth to push the lead to 35-19. Sophomore guard Anna Hartman added 10 points, also playing solid defense and helping bring the ball up the court.
"This is awesome," Carmel coach Ben Berg said. "I knew these girls were special. They made history for our program. We had some struggles midseason, but we got better. Mia and Grace played really well and played with so much poise."
In the first two quarters, Gillis and Sullivan were all over the court, sparking the Corsairs with their dominant two-way play. Sullivan started off piling up the statistics, tallying 6 of Carmel's first 8 points to go with 4 rebounds in the first four minutes. Then, after Sullivan cooled off, Gillis put her imprint on the game.
With a large Sycamore crowd in attendance, the 6-foot-1 Gillis methodically started racking up the points and rebounds, all while bringing the ball up the court. Gillis, who does not have a scholarship offer, hit back-to-back baskets to pad the lead to 13-4 by the end of the first quarter.
She scored four straight points to open the second quarter to extend the lead to 17-4 at the 5:53 mark, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds in the first half. The 6-foot-4 Sullivan was a tad bit better, tallying 8 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Gillis' steady play handling Sycamore's pressure, especially during the Spartans' late surge was instrumental in the victory.
"I was hitting my open shots and tried to help out bringing the ball against their pressure," Gillis said. "I just tried to keep my composure for the team."