Benet coach Peter Paul admirably calls Marist's young kids "players."
The kind that are bound to give Paul and other East Suburban Catholic Conference coaches even more gray hairs the next few years.
Four of the RedHawks top six players are freshmen or sophomores, and they combined for 37 points in a 66-52 win over Benet on Saturday in Lisle.
Freshman guard Jetaun Rouse had 16 points and 7 rebounds, and freshman Leah Bolton 9 points and 6 rebounds. Sophomore Randyll Butler added 10 points, 8 assists and 7 boards for the RedHawks (16-7, 6-3).
"They're the real deal," Paul said. "They make some freshman mistakes, but all and all they are very good."
Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly hearkens back to seven years ago, when she started the program with an all-underclassmen roster.
"It's nothing new for us," Connolly said.
Marist's four young kids played on a Sutherland Elementary School team in Chicago with Trinity freshman Taylor Nazon that went undefeated five straight years.
"If they weren't good enough to be playing on the varsity they'd be playing at the lower levels," Connolly said. "This group has been exceptional since the fourth grade. They have mixed in well with the older kids."
Benet (12-9, 4-4) only trailed 35-34 midway through the third quarter after a pair of Mikayla Panko free throws, somewhat amazing considering Marist had 13 offensive rebounds in the first half, Benet had 23 turnovers at that point and leading scorer Nikki Bell was on the bench with 0 points.
With Bell and second-leading scorer Danielle Canulli sitting almost the entire second quarter with two fouls, girls like Katie Ernsting, Ashley Veselik, Panko and Sidney Prasse filled the void. It was 29-26 at half, Veselik scoring in the final seconds.
But at 35-34 Marist went on an 8-0 run to pull away. Megan James and Rouse hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Rouse scored off a Benet turnover.
Bell's first and only 2 points came on a pair of free throws with 5:02 left in the game and had Benet within 54-46, but she fouled out 33 seconds later.
"We need her to play more," Paul said, "and we need her in ballgames. Today was just not her night."
Panko had 12 points, Veselik 10 points and 7 rebounds and Canulli 10 for Benet, playing without sophomore Nicole Valentine (sprained ankle). Ernsting added 8 points.
"I thought we stayed in it a little bit with mirrors," Paul said, "but we did have some kids that stepped up. The game turned in a couple minutes where we just didn't take care of the basketball. All and all we played with composure, but here and there we lost it."