With a young team, Niles West didn’t necessarily expect to be back in the sectional championship when the season started. But there they were on Thursday night, in a situation all too familiar: facing Maine South with a chance to cut down the nets.
But after Niles West defeated Maine South in last year’s playoffs, the Hawks flipped the script, scooting past the Wolves in overtime, 54-47, to win the IHSA Class 4A Park Ridge (Maine East) Sectional championship. It was the third time Maine South had beaten Niles West this season.
Down 13-0 late in the first quarter, Niles West rallied back to tie the game at the end of regulation. But Maine south didn’t crack. Maine South’s junior guard Kaitlyn Mullarkey made the first two buckets in overtime and the Wolves were held scoreless in the extra session.
“At 13-0 it’d be easy to pack your bags and call it a night, but we battled all the way back,” Niles West coach Tony Konsewicz said. “I was proud of our girls; it was a furious comeback and just fell short.”
Maine South, which had shut down Jewell Loyd in their previous meetings, played a triangle-and-two against Niles West. Mullarkey and sophomore guard Mackenzie Duffy shadowed Loyd the entire game.
Because of Maine South’s quick start, Niles West couldn’t get into their ball-control offense and the Hawks were able to stay with a triangle-and-two through the game’s entirety.
“We kind of let them dictate the game in the first couple minutes,” Loyd said. “I think we got a little cocky in our heads thinking this is going to be easy. Obviously it wasn’t.”
After her teammates missed a couple of open looks, Loyd started to be more aggressive in looking for her shot. She scored Niles West’s first seven points and Laurie Dijohn banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to cut the Hawks’ lead to eight points after the first quarter.
“We come up with a big lead and then Jewell [Loyd] started heating up,” Mullarkey said. “We just said we need to step it up. We had more defensive pressure on her and we kept communicating.”
Loyd turned defense into offense for Niles West in the second quarter, getting two steals for easy layups to bring the Wolves within one, 20-19. But Maine South hit a couple big shots to end the half. Duffy knocked down a three-pointer with 24 seconds left and the Hawks went into halftime with a six-point cushion.
Niles West again rallied back thanks to Loyd’s shooting. The 5-foot-10 junior guard made five of her first seven shots in the second half – including two three-pointers – and Niles West again pulled to within one early in the fourth quarter.
But Loyd wouldn’t make another bucket for Niles West, missing her last five shots from the field. Maine South held her scoreless for the last 10 minutes of the game, including overtime.
Maine South went up four on another three-pointer from Duffy, but turned the ball over with just over two minutes left when Nina Duric was called for an offensive foul. Niles West proceeded to tie the game on two straight layups.
Holding for the last shot, Maine South turned the ball over after a miscommunication on the perimeter. Niles West called timeout to set up a play with 24 seconds remaining. The play was designed for Loyd, who set up on the low block, but the ball ended up in the hands of freshman Dashae Shumate. She drove middle and missed a running left-hander in the lane.
“That’s one area we’ve struggled with all year and it sort of hurt us tonight,” Konsewicz said. “When we draw stuff up in the huddle, we’re either late executing it or we just don’t execute it.”
That set the stage for the four-minute overtime period. With the score tied at 47-47, Mullarkey drove left and hit a 10-foot runner off the backboard to put Maine South ahead. She followed it up with another runner in the lane and Maine South knocked down three free throws to seal the win.
“Take your hats off to them, they beat us three times this year and I think we’re a pretty good team,” Konsewicz said. “They’ve got something special going.”
Loyd finished with 25 points for Niles West, her season-high against Maine South. Jacqui Grant and Michelle Maher led a balanced scoring attack for the Hawks with 14 points each.
Maine South moves on to face Proviso East at Loyola University on Monday. A chance to go to the state semi-finals will be on the line.
“Next year we have to rebuild the whole program again,” Loyd said. “And we still have a young group and we have to put in work during the summer because it’s not going to be easy at all.”