CHICAGO HEIGHTS | The sequence might have gone unnoticed by many, but not by Marian Catholic's Spartans.
The Times' No. 2 squad, playing a team it had beaten by 30 to open the season, trailed Lincoln-Way East after the first quarter of their Bloom Township Class 4A Sectional semifinal. After finally knotting the score at 26 with 3:12 to play in the half, Marian's defense then frustrated the Griffins for 58 seconds, denying their outside shooters and sealing off the lane, until East turned the ball over on a traveling call.
"That's the best feeling in the world," Spartans guard Gabby Cooper said.
"It was a big momentum boost," Marian coach Dan Murray said. "To be honest, Lincoln-Way outplayed us most of the first half. That enabled us to take a lead into halftime. That was huge."
Eventually, Marian (25-4) posted a 61-51 win to advance to Thursday's title game opposite Oak Lawn (28-1), a 61-56 winner over Marist. Marian will play for its 10th sectional crown in 13 years, Oak Lawn for its first in school history.
Murray knows better than to count his chickens — despite many in his orbit doing just that when top-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor was banned from post-season play one hour before its regional opener by the Illinois High School Association.
"When the Flossmoor situation occurred, everyone said they thought (Marian vs. H-F) was what the sectional final was going to be," he said. "In know way, shape or form did we assume that. We knew it wasn't going to be easy to get past Lincoln-Way East. They played toe-to-toe with H-F for a reason. That's an exceptional basketball team."
The Griffins (24-4) outscored Marian 14-3 over the final 3:30 of the first quarter to lead 20-16 heading into the second. They hit 6-of-10 3-pointers in the first eight minutes, four of their shooters getting in on the act.
They'd make 10 3-pointers on the evening, Kara Krolicki and Dana O'Grady each hitting three on the way to sharing team scoring honors with 15 points apiece. Teammate Claire McMahon added two en route to 10 points.
Marian's mainstays, Teniya Page and Ashton Millender, finished with 20 and 16 points respectively. But in the first half, Page was 3-of-11 from the floor and Millender wasn't getting her usual number of touches.
"They were really prepared for us, and did some things to take away things we like to do," Murray said. "But, we adjusted well — and we advanced. At this stage, that's what matters."
Marian pulled away in the third, Cooper hitting a pair of 3-pointers, and Millender and Page scoring seven points each to build a 54-41 advantage heading into the final period. A nearly five-minute stretch without a point shaved that to 56-51 with 2:45 to play, but Page hit a pair of free throws, a hanging jumper in the lane and 1-of-2 freebies in the final 2:03 to seal the win.