DARIEN – Montini freshman guard Sophie Sullivan didn’t play like she practiced.
That was a good thing.
Sullivan sank her first two shots Tuesday and went on to score a game-high 16 points as the top-seeded Broncos knocked off St. Ignatius 54-39 at the Class 4A Hinsdale South Sectional semifinals.
The win sets up a highly anticipated sectional final rematch on Thursday with third-seeded Benet, which beat Young 72-63. Montini routed Benet 54-31 in the sectional final last year.
Montini coach Jason Nichols was concerned about Sullivan’s state of mind before Tuesday’s game.
“I thought she looked nervous,” Nichols said. “The last two days in practice, I saw more air balls out of her than I’ve seen the whole season.
“I said to my assistant, ‘Look at her, she looks like she’s scared out of her wits.’ Then she comes out, bang, bang, so what do the heck do I know.”
After fellow freshman Tatiana Thomas scored on a drive to put Montini ahead, Sullivan scored the next five points on a 3-pointer out of the right corner and a driving layup to give the Broncos (30-4) a 9-3 lead.
“I just had to focus on the front of the rim and I knew that I could make my shots,” said Sullivan, who made four of her first five attempts. “I’d say the momentum was there once I started hitting my shots. I was just trying to get my teammates into the game, too.”
While Montini never trailed after that, fourth-seeded St. Ignatius (24-9) was in the game until the third quarter. The Wolfpack cut the deficit to one on three occasions, but the Broncos used a 10-0 run in the second quarter to open a 25-14 lead.
Sullivan started the run with a layup and finished it with a 3-pointer. Seniors Zoe Zacker and Frankie Kokkines accounted for the other five points.
Zacker had 10 points, four assists and three steals, while Kokkines added nine points and five rebounds, but it was their defense that stopped the Wolfpack’s next run.
Nicolette McDonald scored inside to complete an 8-0 run that cut Montini’s lead to 31-30 with 2:56 left in the third quarter. Nichols called timeout and instituted a full-court press, which forced six straight St. Ignatius turnovers.
The Broncos went on a 12-0 run, holding the Wolfpack scoreless for nearly eight minutes, to boost the lead to 43-32.
“We lost all momentum that I thought we could have just playing our regular defense, so then we amped it up and they just couldn’t get it across halfcourt,” Nichols said. “All we had to do was get some energy going. We were flat and it totally changed the game.
“Some people say why don’t you do that all game? You can’t do that all game because you’re going to lose shooters. You have to pick your spots.”
As one of three freshmen starters, Sullivan picked a great spot to produce one of her best games.
“I just know I have to step up in these big games and play my best,” Sullivan said. “(If I miss shots) it shouldn’t affect me mentally. I just had to keep shooting and keep trying to make the right decisions for my team.”
Clara Prasse made all the right decisions in the second semifinal for Benet, which led wire-to-wire against Young. The senior took all of her shots – and scored all 11 of her points - in the first half and dished eight assists.
Most of those assists went to juniors Kendall Holmes and Brooke Schramek, who dominated the Dolphins (25-6) on the perimeter and in the paint. Holmes poured in 24 points, which included three 3-pointers and a 9-for-9 effort from the free-throw line, while Schramek had 10 of her 15 points in the second half and made 9-of-13foul shots.
“We’re a very resilient team,” said Prasse, who along with Holmes was sporting an ice pack afterward. “I think we want it more than anybody.
“We have so much heart on the team and just the talent, you don’t see it very often, in my opinion.”
Indeed, the Redwings (26-5) have at least 10 Division I prospects on the roster and they got contributions from most of them against Young, which kept the game close by sinking eight 3-pointers.
Center Ashley Konkle had seven points, six rebounds and two assists and junior guards Ashley Berry and Lexi Moriarty came off the bench to hit big 3-pointers at key moments.
“Everybody stepped up tonight,” Holmes said. “We wanted it more than them, so we came out stronger and faster. We knew they weren’t going to let up but we just pushed through.”
The Redwings did it at both ends, holding Young scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. Holmes made two free throws to give Benet its largest lead, 64-48, with 3:26 remaining.
“Our game plan was to load up and get back so they wouldn’t have transition and I think everybody had their mind set on that,” Holmes said. “So we were able to get back and stop them and that led into our offense and we were knocking down shots.”
Now the Redwings get their chance to avenge last year’s loss.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for a year now,” Prasse said. “So we’re going to practice hard tomorrow and we’re going to be ready for them.”