LISLE – Beating a team twice in the same season is never an easy feat.
Both squads have a better idea of the opposition’s game plan and leading scorers, but most importantly, the loser of the first meeting that is motivated by revenge.
A desire to avenge a Nov. 30 defeat in the third-place game of the Riverside Brookfield Thanksgiving Tournament may have been the difference in Thursday’s regional final between host Lisle and Mount Assisi.
Although the Lions prevailed in the initial matchup, a fourth-quarter surge powered Mount Assisi to a 52-42 victory in the regional. Tied at 33 heading into the final frame, Mount Assisi went on a 14-5 run to put away Lisle and clinch a regional title.
“We just had some breakdowns defensively,” Lisle head coach Nick Balaban said. “That was kind of the story of how we played down the stretch this year, dating back to mid-January.”
The Lisle girls got off to a blistering start this season, going 15-3 in games between Nov. 19 and Dec. 30. But after the calendar turned to 2014, the Lions went 3-7 to close the regular season, an unfortunate yet indicative sign of things to come in the postseason.
An 18-10 regular season mark helped Lisle earn one of four top seeds in the Class 2A Harper sectional, and the Lions started the postseason with an 81-31 win against CICS Longwood.
After cruising to that win, the Lions found themselves locked in a back-and-forth battle against Mount Assisi. In a game featuring nine ties and six lead changes, the Lions led at halftime but had no answer for Mount Assisi’s fourth-quarter run.
“You have to hand it to Mount Assisi. They were the better team,” Balaban said. “They made the plays when they needed to and were able to close out the game.”
In the third quarter, Lisle forward Monifah Davis scored six straight points to give the Lions a 31-25 lead. But Mount Assisi came roaring back with a layup and consecutive baskets off turnovers.
Sierra Birdsell scored eight of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough to power Lisle to a victory.
While it was not the ideal way to end the season, Balaban – who was hired in late August – said he looks forward to a full offseason with the team.
“We had some aspirations and some goals to win championships, and we unfortunately fell short of those goals,” Balaban said. “We now have something to build upon and work toward during my first full offseason [as coach].”
“But I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls to work with during my first season here. They work hard, they have great attitudes, and they made my first season an enjoyable and memorable experience.”