Blacher, Montini run past Glenbard South to win 18th straight regional
Shannon Blacher said she has always been taught to play basketball at 110%.
She's proven a good learner.
The 5-foot-11 Montini senior and NIU recruit is an active defender that seems to get her hands on everything, and leads her team in steals. Once she gets the ball, Blacher more often than not puts her head down and attacks the basket.
"That's always how I've played," Blacher said. "Just leave it all out on the court, and give it your all."
Blacher brought that mentality from the opening tip Friday, with half of her 20 points and eight steals in the first quarter. Her teammates followed Blacher's lead as Montini beat Glenbard South 71-33 in the Class 3A Hinsdale South Regional final for the program's 18th straight regional title.
Victoria Matulevicius added 16 points and Alyssa Epps 14 for Montini (25-7), which moves on to play Burlington Central in Tuesday's sectional semifinal at Glenbard South.
Blacher set the tone for the game early, scoring back-to-back baskets off her own steals midway through the first quarter. She rolled in a one-handed floater on a baseline drive, and capped off the 10-point first quarter with a score in transition for an 18-9 lead that ballooned to 33-16 by halftime.
That kind of two-way impact is nothing new to Montini coach Shannon Spanos.
"Good things are going to happen when Shannon gets the ball," Spanos said. "She plays both ends of the court so hard. Having her defensive intensity out there, and creating deflections and creating steals does so much for us."
Blacher is the last remaining link to Montini's last team to reach the state tournament in 2020. Much has transpired since -- a coaching change, multiple players leaving the program and a pandemic canceling one postseason.
But this Montini team looks like one poised to make a run back to Redbird Arena. With two sectional wins, the Broncos could face defending champion Carmel or Deerfield -- the latter, a team Montini has already beaten -- in a supersectional.
"I love this team so much, I feel like we play so well together, and I feel like we have a really good chance to go downstate," Blacher said. "We focus on that every day in practice. I really believe we have the ability to do it."
Sophomore Brooklynn Moore had nine points and five rebounds and Callie Hardtke six points for Glenbard South (25-6). The Raiders, with four freshmen and two sophomores on their roster, made a 10-win improvement in coach Eric Daca's second season.
But he realized what his group was up against Friday.
"Montini, they just have so many weapons," Daca said. "In the beginning we were playing man and they were able to penetrate and get fast breaks. We started getting tired, switched to zone, and they started hitting shots. Our girls played hard, they fought hard, we just lost to a better team."
Montini forced eight turnovers in the first quarter, four of those coming on Blacher steals, and pushed the tempo throughout. Blacher's driving layup and score in transition started a 10-2 run out of halftime, and she had eight more points with four steals in the third quarter.
"I was just trying to anticipate and my teammates did a really good job of pressuring the ball, which allowed me to read the defense and get those steals," Blacher said.
Epps took the mantle from there, scoring eight of her 14 in the third quarter with a pair of nifty runners in the lane.
"I was just looking to be aggressive, go to the basket, and then do whatever it took to have my team win," Epps said.
Daca, with 10 of his 13 girls returning next year from an Upstate Eight Conference champion, looks forward to being back in this position.
"We told them to be extremely proud of the work they did. We didn't get it done here, but Montini showed what level we need to be at to get to where we want to be," Daca said. "We want to be at that level. We work hard in the offseason and build, our time will come."