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Latin wasn’t going to take Wheaton Academy lightly on Wednesday.
Despite being prohibitive favorites, the Romans were expecting a tough fight on the home floor of an opponent which had beaten them during the regular season.
That’s exactly what Latin got. Though they never trailed after the first four minutes, the Romans were never comfortable in eliminating the host Warriors 43-31 in a Class 3A Wheaton Academy Regional semifinal.
“[Wheaton coach] Beth [Mitchell]’s team has really improved if you look at their scores,” Latin coach Max Rouse said. “Those kids play hard, so we knew we had to bring it. Fortunately, we were able to handle the pressure enough to pull it out.”
Wheaton Academy (9-20), the 14th seed at the Nazareth Sectional, beat Latin 53-42 at the Lisle Cage Classic on Dec. 28, so the fourth-seeded Romans (23-3) were ready for battle.
“In practice we prepared a lot and we watched a lot of their tapes,” Latin junior Lizzie Marks said. “We looked over their press, getting prepared for that.
“In the Lisle tournament when we lost to them, we just didn‘t have our best game. I think tonight we came out a lot stronger.”
Marks had a lot to do with that, scoring 10 points and grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds to help Latin control the glass at both ends (the Romans outrebounded Wheaton 43-21).
A driving layup by Marks gave Latin its largest lead, 32-20, with 2:40 left in the third quarter, but the Warriors answered with a 9-0 run to close within 32-29 on a three-pointer by Abby Olson at the 5:35 mark of the fourth quarter.
The Romans, who were rather tentative on offense in the first half, responded with a 9-0 run of their own, with first Bridget Cato and then Marks scoring on two aggressive moves down the lane.
“We’ve been working on that a lot, in terms of finishing aggressively,” Rouse said. “Those kids are the kids who can do it for us.”
“One of [Rouse’s] mottos is ‘fake a pass to make a pass’ and also to drive,” Marks said. “So I think we tried to fake the jump shot and then we drove past and tried to create options.”
Caroline Kaplan scored 10 points, while Alexis Stevenson added nine points and Cato eight points for Latin, which will face Westinghouse in Friday’s title game. Jen Costa chipped in six points and nine boards for the winners.
Freshman guard Jamie Netzley had 10 points, five rebounds and five steals for Wheaton, which also received 10 points from senior Katherine Maret.
“Not to make excuses, but we didn’t have Ali Grant tonight, who had 16 points when we played them last time, and Jamie was bothered by a sore wrist,” Wheaton Academy coach Beth Mitchell said. “We couldn’t match their height and they beat us on the boards, but we played them tough and made a run at the end.”