Memories of last March were indeed on Malayna Johnson’s mind.
Just like Hillcrest, Wheaton Warrenville South found out Saturday you can never quite count out Montini.
Shades of last year’s stunning state semifinal comeback, No. 1 Montini stormed back from 12 down in the fourth quarter to beat No. 2 WW South 40-35 at the Schaumburg Tournament.
Johnson’s turnaround jumper with 1:32 left gave the Broncos a 34-32 lead, capping a 15-1 run, and at the other end she blocked her 6th shot of the game. Last March Montini came back from 9 down in the fourth quarter to beat Hillcrest en route to its third straight state title.
“Just like the Hillcrest game, that’s exactly what we were thinking the whole time,” Johnson said. “We didn’t talk about it but everybody knew.”
It was anything but a thing of beauty for the Broncos for three quarters.
Down 18-15 at the half, Montini (3-0) watched as WW South (1-2) went on an 8-0 run, taking its biggest lead at 31-19 with 7:03 left on a basket by Montini transfer Diamond Thompson.
WW South got a bit too passive offensively from there, though, and Montini turned up the pressure.
A Johnson three-point play and Sara Ross runner made it 31-27, and 3-pointers by Kateri Stone and freshman Lea Kerstein cut the margin to 32-30 with 2:33 left. After a WW South turnover, one of 7 by the Tigers in the quarter, a pair of Kelly Karlis free throws tied it. Karlis stole the ball at the other end, setting up Johnson’s go-ahead basket.
Montini managed just 19 points through three quarters, then scored 21 over the game’s final seven minutes.
Defense turned to offense.
“We had to do something,” Montini coach Jason Nichols said. “I was scared to press them earlier to allow Meghan Waldron to get in the open floor, because she beat us in the half court. But we turned them over a little bit when they pulled it out to take the air out.
“Wheaton South played great. Our kids found a way to win.”
Waldron scored 13 points for WW South with 8 rebounds and 4 assists, but the Tigers’ star junior point guard went scoreless in the fourth quarter. In fact, she took just 1 shot. A Sierra Bisso 3-pointer that cut Montini’s lead to 36-35 with 23 seconds left was WW South’s only basket over the last seven minutes.
“I told the kids at a timeout, ‘We need to attack,’” WW South coach Rob Kroehnke said. “It looked like we were on our heels a little bit. We made some bad decisions and did some things we don’t normally do.”
The Tigers would have had a bigger margin for error late, if not for poor free-throw shooting. WW South shot just 1 of 11 from the line in the first half, 6 of 19 for the game.
“Great effort by our kids,” Kroehnke said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t finish.”
Montini, for its part, made just 6 of its first 16 free-throw attempts. Much like the Hillcrest win, though, steady foul shooter Stone came through with 6 of 6 in the game’s final minute. Two Stone free throws made it 38-35 with 13.7 seconds left, and Kelsey Bogdan stole a tipped pass at the other end.
“We were losing,” Stone said, “and we all hate losing. We just picked up the intensity on defense. Defense starts everything. Once we got the defense going it transitioned to the offense. We started to get that killer instinct.”
Stone admitted that her thoughts did drift to the Hillcrest game as she toed the line late.
“You just gotta stay calm,” said Stone, who scored 14 points. “Whatever happens happens.”
Maggie Dansdill had 7 points and 10 rebounds and Thompson 5 points for WW South, and Ross scored 7 for Montini.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.