Girls Basketball: Marian Catholic eyeing Class 4A crown
By Tony Baranek firstname.lastname@example.org February 28, 2013 9:54PM
Marian Catholic's Ashton Millender (21). | Larry Kane~For Sun-Times Media
Where: Illinois State University, Normal
FRIDAY’S CLASS 3A SEMIFINALS
Vernon Hills (30-2) vs.
Montini (34-1), noon
Morton (30-4) vs.
Quincy Notre Dame (28-0), 2 p.m.
FRIDAY’S CLASS 4A SEMIFINALS
Huntley (26-6) vs.
Rolling Meadows (29-3), 6:30 p.m.
Marian Catholic (31-1) vs.
Whitney Young (26-4), 8:15 p.m.
SATURDAY’S CLASS 3A GAMES
Third place: noon
Championship: 2 p.m.
SATURDAY’S CLASS 4A GAMES
Third place: 6:30 p.m.
Championship: 8:15 p.m.
Updated: April 2, 2013 6:25AM
The potential story line for No. 1 Marian Catholic at this weekend’s Class 4A state finals at Illinois State University is straight out of a fantasy writer’s pen.
Just imagine: A chance in the semifinals to beat Whitney Young to avenge losses in Class 4A supersectionals in 2009, ’10 and ’11.
Then imagine this: A chance in the state title game to beat Rolling Meadows to avenge the Spartans’ only loss this season.
“It almost is (fantasy), isn’t it?” Marian coach Annie Byrne said. “The kids were talking about it after the game (Monday). Ashton (Millender’s) dad was talking about it and said it gave him goose bumps, the fact the kids get to play Whitney Young.
“I think the kids are excited and they’re very thankful for this opportunity. They worked really hard for it, and I really have the feeling that their thought process is, ‘We’re not done yet.’ ”
Marian Catholic (31-1), which will meet Young (26-4) in the second semifinal at 8:15 p.m. Friday, is making its first appearance at state since 2006-07, its third under Byrne and sixth overall.
The best finish by a Spartans team at state was second, in Class AA in 2001-02 under Shannon Reidy. Byrne’s team in 2006-07, led by Kaila Turner, finished third in Class 4A.
Young, the defending Class 4A champion, is making its ninth appearance on state finals weekend. The Dolphins also won it all in 2007-08.
“This means … a lot,” Byrne said about the Spartans’ return to the state stage. I texted Jasmine (Matthews) and Simone (Law) and said that this is for them.
“They did so much for our program, along with Jamie Johnson, and they just didn’t get over that (Young) hump. I wanted them to know that the mark they left here we carry with us all the time.”
The Spartans have steamrolled their way through four opponents by an average of 34 points. They had one close call, and it was as close as it possibly could be.
The Spartans trailed Marist 52-51 in the Mother McAuley Sectional final with just two seconds remaining when a long pass from Megan Walsh to Millender resulted in Millender banking in a 25-foot prayer at the buzzer.
Their latest conquest, a 56-37 supersectional win Monday over Peoria Richwoods at Illinois Wesleyan, came in less dramatic fashion — certainly less than at Hinsdale Central, where Young saw a 17-point lead over Bolingbrook with 12 minutes remaining disappear before finally winning 61-60 in overtime on a shot by Khaalia Hillsman.
The Dolphins’ leader, Linnae Harper, had 26 points and 12 rebounds in the victory, and comes into the Marian game average-wise at 19 and 9, respectively.
“We have to box out, make sure we get all the boards and stop Linnae from penetrating,” Walsh said. “We’re pretty excited at the opportunity. We can’t wait.”
Who gets the pleasure of trying to stop Harper?
“Probably four of our kids,” Byrne said with a chuckle. “Really, that’s who we’re going to have to concentrate on. We’ll have to bother her. If we can bother her, I think we can be successful.
“I just hope the refs let us play. The refs (at Illinois Wesleyan) didn’t let us play.”
Several of the Spartans were in foul trouble during the tightly called contest, none more seriously than Walsh, who committed her fourth foul with just under seven minutes remaining in the third quarter and Marian up by 10. Byrne had her sit for about a minute before sending her back out.
“When my emotions were getting all mixed up on the bench, coach kind of put me back in the right mind-set,” Walsh said. “She just told me to play smart, play strong, and just keep doing what I was doing. I just kind of went out there calm and collected and tried to do what I could.”
Walsh didn’t commit a fifth foul and finished with 13 points as the Spartans punched their ticket to Redbird Arena and a showdown against one of their biggest nemeses.
“We’re going to just keep doing what we’re doing,” Byrne said. “We’re similar teams. They’re a little bit bigger, but that’s just one kid (the 6-5 Hillsman). And (Harper) is a senior, going for a state championship. We’re going to focus on her and try to make the rest of the team beat us.”