High School Game of the Week - 2/28/2011
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By Rob Valentin
GIRLS BASKETBALL- The Maine East Sectional final held last Thursday between Maine South and Niles West was expected to be a thriller.
The Hawks are a young but very deep and talented squad and they were facing a team that has one of the best players in the country, Jewell Loyd, surrounded by some young up-and-coming players of their own.
Neither team disappointed but at the end of the day Maine South proved to have the better team as they knocked off Niles West 54-47 in overtime to advance to the Loyola Supersectional.
Maine South's Mackenzie Duffy drives to the basket while being guarded by Niles West's Nicole Moy (left) and Jewell Loyd.
“This is the third (sectional title) in the last six years for us,” Hawks’ head coach Mark Smith said. “They seem to get harder and they seem to get more special. This one is about as special of a sectional win as we’ve ever had.”
Maine South absolutely dominated the early going as they raced out to a 13-0 lead. Sophomore center Jacqui Grant had three field goals, junior Michelle Maher had a field goal and a pair of free throws and Kaitlyn Mullarkey knocked down a three-pointer to start the game.
Niles West (22-9) got its first field goal with 2:22 to play on a three-pointer from Loyd. By the end of the first quarter the Wolves were able to trim the lead to 18-10.
Niles West continued to chip away at the deficit. Another three-pointer by Laurie DiJohn and back-to-back steal and layups by Loyd pulled the Wolves within 20-19 midway through the quarter.
Maine South, however, was able to finish the half with a little run of its own as it took a 30-24 lead into the break.
DiJohn hit three of four three pointers in the first half. Coupled with unbelievable defensive play by Loyd, Niles West was still in the game.
“You win, you go on; you lose, you go home,” Loyd said. “So I think I got into everyone’s head. We didn’t want to go home.”
The Wolves would make a run in the third quarter. Trailing 38-31, Loyd knocked down a long three ball and then a field goal. A bucket by Nicole Moy suddenly tied the game at 38-38.
Maine South took a 40-39 lead into the fourth quarter as both teams slowed down their offenses to find good shots. Thanks to a three-pointer by Mackenzie Duffy and then a Niles West turnover, the Hawks had a 47-43 lead with the ball and less than two minutes.
But a steal by Loyd and pass to Molly Kleppin led to one Wolves’ bucket with 1:53 to play and Dashae Shumate recorded a steal on the inbound a second later and scored with 1:50 to tie the game at 47-47.
Neither team scored on its next possession and Maine South found itself with the ball and 40 seconds left. Smith called a timeout as the Hawks tried to set up for one last shot. But a turnover with 20 seconds left gave the Wolves the last chance. The Hawks made sure Loyd didn’t get the ball and a little runner by Shumate was off the mark, sending the game to overtime.
“We absolutely wanted the last shot,” Niles West coach Tony Konsewicz said. “We didn’t want to take a shot with seven seconds left and give them a shot to get down the floor. We had two screeners supposed to get to (Loyd’s defenders) but we just didn’t execute as well as we wanted to.”
Neither team could get much going in overtime. The Hawks finally scored the periods’ first point after a driving layup by Mullarkey with 2:40 to play.
After a defensive stop it was déjà vu for Mullarkey as she hit another driving layup with 2:01 to play. A pair of jump balls and a Niles West turnover as the clock wound down forced the Wolves to start fouling but Duffy sank both tried with 14.8 seconds left to seal the win. Maher added a free throw with six seconds left to complete the scoring.
“It was very exciting,” Mullarkey said. “I was just thinking that I had to make more shots and had to play hard, play good defense. The offense will come and it did in overtime.”
With Maine South having no seniors in their top seven, Loyd knows that Niles West will have its work cut out for them next season.
“Every time you play them, it’s going to be a tough game,” she said. “They’re running the same sets since I’ve been here.”
While Niles West has a good core group of players coming back in Loyd, Shumate and Kleppin, they’re going to miss the contributions from Moy and DiJohn.
“Absolutely, they stepped up tonight,” Konsewicz said. “Moy has decent size, really good quickness, good feet and is long for a guard. She can guard in the post and then go out guard the ball-handlers. And we’re going to miss Laurie’s shooting. And she did a pretty good job battling (Maine South’s) Nina Duric in the post when she had to.”
“Next year we have to rebuild our whole program again,” Loyd said. “We still have a young group and we have to put in the work over the summer. It’s not going to be easy at all.”
Loyd will start playing with her AAU team, Midwest Elite, in a couple weeks. Mullarkey is also on the team.