JOLIET | It was not a surprise that Ashton Millender and Teniya Page rose to the occasion on Wednesday night, carrying second-ranked Marian Catholic to a victory over Joliet Catholic Academy and taking with it at least a share of the East Suburban Catholic Conference title.
The surprise was the overwhelming nature of the outcome. Marian's 69-46 rout of the Angels was the shocker.
"We want to have big games in big games," Millender said after her 22-point showing.
She came up big at the start, scoring 15 of Marian's points in a first quarter that saw the Spartans up 22-16 at the buzzer. And Page, who scored four points in that quarter, added 10 more in the second quarter and kept the pedal down, scoring 23 for the game.
Essentially, Marian's best players outplayed JCA's best. Jasmine Lumpkin scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds, and Nicole Ekhomu added 13 points, but they were left in the wake of Millender and Page, who ignored the stakes and focused on method.
"That was basically my whole mentality coming in," Page said. "Just play and not think about it, because things will happen."
Marian is 21-4, 8-0 in the East Suburban Catholic. JCA fell to 22-2, 8-1, its league schedule complete. If Marian beats Fenwick on the road on Saturday, it will collect the conference title outright.
The Spartans were just a hair quicker than the Angels, and that showed most on defense, especially in JCA's four-point third quarter. Marian forced many of JCA's 20 turnovers, and also forced the Angels into bad shooting areas. Conversely, Millender, Page and Gabrielle Cooper (8 points off the bench) were frequently open, and took advantage.
"When we're aggressive all the time we score more points," Page said.
Marian didn't let up until after the issue was decided. With DePaul coach Doug Bruno, who has a commitment from Millender, and Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell watching their every move, the Spartans held the Angels to one Lumpkin basket and four points in the third quarter. But the Spartans worked hard until the second string was on the court.
Defending state champions have a tendency to do that.