Johnson, Montini rebound for title
STERLING — Malayna Johnson and Montini made sure the taste of their first loss didn't linger.
Hours after an uninspiring game against Peoria Richwoods, the No. 1-ranked Broncos bounced back to beat No. 9 Fremd 53-35 Saturday in the final game of the Sterling Shootout.
Montini, Richwoods and Fremd all finished 4-1 in the six-team round-robin event. The Broncos, by virtue of a free-throw percentage tiebreaker, won it for the second time in three years.
More important was just leaving town with a win.
"We definitely didn't want to take two losses tonight," Johnson said. "We weren't ready to play this morning. I was excited to play that second game."
Johnson's two games were like night and day, both literally and figuratively.
In the 45-34 loss to Richwoods she scored just 5 points, unable to handle several post feeds.
She seemed to have an extra spring against Fremd, though, scoring 21 points with 10 rebounds and blocked 7 shots. Fremd, undersized without 6-foot sophomore Haley Gorecki (ankle), had no match for the 6-foot-4 Johnson.
"Malayna was awesome," Montini coach Jason Nichols said. "She set the tone in that second game. The only person who can stop Malayna is Malayna. When she's good, we're tough to beat."
"We were going to see if she could beat us, and she did," Fremd coach Dave Yates said. "We don't have the size to match up with Montini's small forward, let alone their post players."
Nichols thought the loss could be a blessing in disguise.
Until Saturday his group had weathered some close calls; Montini (14-1) needed a furious rally to beat Wheaton Warrenville South, nearly blew a late lead against Geneva and also barely beat Walther Lutheran. They responded well to defeat.
"We had been playing with fire a lot lately," Nichols said, "and we got burned. It was a learning experience that we needed, and we bounced back."
Fremd (13-3) earlier Saturday beat Hononegah 40-39, rallying from down 8 with a little more than two minutes left to win on freshman Brianna Lewis' free throw with a second left.
But the Vikings, playing in their third game in 24 hours and seventh in 10 days, couldn't muster a comeback against Montini.
Ashley McConnell scored 16 of Fremd's first 19 points in the first half, keeping her team close, but a 10-0 Montini run took the Broncos into the break up 32-21. It never got closer in the second half. Tournament MVP McConnell, coming off a personal-high 33 Friday, finished with 22.
"We ran out of gas a little bit, and we're missing our best player. There's only so much Ashley could do," Yates said. "That second quarter turned the game. We were hanging around, then they went on that little run and that gave them that comfort. Every shot for us was a tough shot. Credit their length. To beat a team that good, we have to be clicking on more than one cylinder."
A McConnell 3-pointer had Fremd within 13-12, but Kateri Stone answered with a 3 for Montini to touch off the 10-0 run capped off by a Johnson transition basket.
Montini also got a big lift off the bench from sophomore Rainey Kuykendall, who scored all 8 of her points in the first half. Aggressive to the basket, on the ground for loose balls, she provided energy lacking against Richwoods.
"Rainey is a kid who can look like an All-American at times. She needs to play like one," Nichols said. "The talent, it's in her."
Stone added 9 points and Kelsey Bogdan 8 for Montini. Hannah LaBarge scored 9 points and McConnell 8 for Fremd against Hononegah, a LaBarge 3 igniting the late rally. Yates, whose team is also at the 16-team Montini Tournament that starts Wednesday, relished the Vikings' first trip to Sterling.
"We want to see good teams, to see what we need to do to get better," Yates said. "We saw the best team in Rockford, the best team in Peoria, Montini — and they're different teams. I'm proud of my kids' effort and their showing."
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96
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