To Jason Nichols and Montini, winners of the last three state championships, the McDonald's Shootout remained an elusive white whale.
Consider that big fish reeled in.
Winning its first game ever at the prestigious event, No. 1 Montini led nearly start to finish in beating Class 4A No. 1 Whitney Young 51-36 in Monday's finale of the 23rd McDonald's Shootout at Willowbrook.
"Considering they're No. 1 in the state, this is our best win so far since I've been here in my opinion," said Montini junior Sara Ross, who had 8 points and 11 rebounds. "It's Whitney Young, they haven't lost to a team in state in who knows how long. How crazy is that?"
Until Monday Montini (24-1) was 0 for 5 at Willowbrook, Nichols winless in seven tries dating back to his time at Trinity.
The win exacted a measure of revenge for Montini's 64-56 loss to Whitney Young at Willowbrook and was also the Dolphins' first regular-season loss to an in-state team since Marshall beat Young in January 2008.
"I think sometimes we get the little kids' thing, being 3A. I think this kind of cements that we can play with these (4A) teams," Nichols said. "Let's be honest, Young wasn't their best. I think that trip to St. Louis might have affected them a little bit. I wouldn't want to play them again. I think this win just reiterates that we're pretty darn good too, and these kids just know how to win."
Young (17-4), defending Class 4A champion, played in a shootout in St. Louis on Saturday. Coach Corry Irvin wasn't hearing fatigue as an excuse.
"We were just horrible," Irvin said. "I'm very frustrated right now."
Like many teams before them, Young could not solve the riddle of Montini's matchup zone and its superior length.
The Dolphins made just 25 percent of their shots, went 2 of 19 from 3-point range, and were 2 of 11 from the free-throw line. Young's Kentucky-bound senior guard Linnae Harper, a top 10 player nationally in the Class of 2013, shot 4 of 22, scoring 9 points. She made 2 of her first 3 shots, then missed her next 10.
Montini's zone, called the "best 2-3 zone in the state" by Rolling Meadows coach Ryan Kirkorsky, has an impressive list of victims. It held Kirkorsky's Mustangs, who scored 87 points Monday against Fenwick, to a season-low 43.
"It's just another great defensive effort," Nichols said, "We knew everything that they were going to do and how they run their zone offense, and our kids did a pretty good job. Sara Ross was huge on the glass and made free throws late. That was beautiful."
Kelly Karlis led all scorers with 14 points, her driving layup giving Montini the lead for good at 5-4. A stickback basket by Montini freshman Claire Jakaitis gave the Broncos a 23-18 lead going into halftime, and it was 37-27 through three quarters. Montini made three 3-pointers in the first quarter, 2 by Kateri Stone, to get the Broncos out to a 13-6 lead.
A putback by Taylor Brame got Young within 37-32 with 5:28 left, but Karlis slashed through for a driving layup, and Malayna Johnson laid in a pretty lob on an inbounds play from midcourt to push the margin back to 9.
"We haven't won here the last five years since being in this tournament," Karlis said, "and knocking them off, knowing that they haven't lost a game in the last few years to an in-state team is pretty good for us."
Stone scored 8 points, and Johnson 6 points and 7 rebounds. Montini also got a combined 12 points off the bench from freshmen Jakaitis and Lea Kerstein, who had a pair of 3s in the third quarter as part of her 8 points.
Follow Josh on Twitter @jwelge96Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.