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Ashton Millender, of Marian Catholic, looks for an open player against Marist for the Class 4A Sectional Semi Finals at Carl Sandburg High School, Monday, Febuary 20th, 2012 in Orland Park, IL. l Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media
And now for something completely different.
Marian Catholic is competing Monday night in a Class 4A Supersectional, and the opponent won’t be Young.
In their last three Elite Eight appearances, from 2009 through 2011, the Spartans met the Dolphins at St. Xavier University and came away empty.
This time it’s Peoria Richwoods, and the site is Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
Different route, different winner?
“Well … as much as we have never really gotten over that other hump (Young), it’s nice to go a different route in the state series,” Spartans coach Annie Byrne said. “We’ve never done that.
“Traveling to (Bloomington), we’re excited. We’ve taken the kids to unfamiliar territory this year where they’ve faced high caliber competition and they’ve been successful. Hopefully, that will benefit us.”
Byrne spent much of the weekend cramming for the Spartans’ latest test.
Peoria Richwoods (26-6) wasn’t supposed to be the test. Edwardsville, unbeaten at 30-0, was a heavy favorite against the Knights going into Thursday’s Normal West Sectional final. But Richwoods beat the odds, and Edwardsville, 41-36 to earn a shot at its first trip to state since winning the Class 3A state title in 2009.
“We were more prepared for Edwardsville,” Byrne said on Saturday. “We’ve tried to do our homework on Peoria Richwoods, and we know that they’re guard-oriented, that they’re small, and they have a sophomore lefty (Olivia Elger) who can shoot the lights out.”
The 5-foot-7 Elger is averaging a team-high 17.5 points, while 5-8 senior Brenna Detra is at 12.7 points.
Richwoods led Edwardsville for all but a few minutes in Thursday’s sectional final, using a spread offense against Edwardsville’s taller lineup. Elger had a strong second half, and finished with 14 points. Defensively, the Knights forced 22 turnovers.
The only common opponent is Joliet Catholic, which lost to Marian 56-44 on Jan. 8, but beat Richwoods 64-61. Richwoods’ biggest regular-season victory was a 45-34 victory over Class 3A state powerhouse Montini.
“Obviously, we’re not overlooking (Richwoods),” Byrne said. “They did a great job beating Edwardsville. We’re just happy to be alive.”
Indeed, the Spartans barely had a pulse with 2.8 seconds remaining in Thursday’s sectional final against Marist, after RedHawks senior JeTaun Rouse hit a clutch jumper to put them in front 52-51.
Byrne drew up a trick play during the timeout that resulted in a more than half-court in-bounds pass from Megan Walsh to Ashton Millender, and a subsequent 25-foot bank-in by Millender as the buzzer sounded.
“I was just fortunate to have been there before,” said Byrne, who called a similar play in a similar situation in her first year as a head coach in 2006. That also resulted in a miracle basket at the buzzer and a sectional victory.
“Before (the play) they had their heads down, and Marist was jumping on the court, and the kids didn’t even know we had called the timeout. I can’t believe how well they executed when they were upset. That was impressive.
“This is a great group of young ladies. I’m thankful that we could practice this weekend and made it to the Elite Eight. I hope we have another week together.”