Batavia edges Montini; DGN surprises Nazareth

Plenty of guards are taller than Batavia's Brooke Carlson, but few are stronger.

"It's not like when you see a big, bulky football player, but the girl is very strong," Batavia coach Kevin Jensen said. "She's strong taking care of the ball, strong in her legs and strong with contact, so it's hard to knock her off-balance.

"She might hit the ground sometimes, but there's plays where the contact she's getting would knock over 99% of everybody else that's going to the hole. She's incredibly strong."

Carlson demonstrated that again on Saturday at the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase at Fremd. The 5-foot-7 senior poured in a game-high 24 points to lead the Bulldogs to a 53-52 victory over Montini.

The scoring wasn't a surprise. It was some of the other things Carlson did which demonstrated her growth from last season, namely drawing two charging fouls from Montini star Victoria Matulevicius.

The Colorado State-bound Carlson also contributed five rebounds, two steals and a block for the Bulldogs (6-1), who never trailed after Carlson's layup started an opening 12-2 run.

"Honestly, I think it's some of the decision-making," Jensen said. "You compare stuff from the last few years, the ability has always been there, but she's seeing the exact moments better of when she needs to shoot, to drive, to facilitate.

"Even though there's times when she might give it up, she's finding herself getting back open even more. So it's not making her scoring go down."

Jensen said that's partially because Carlson's supporting cast has been solid. Addi Love had eight points, six rebounds and two steals against Montini, while Kylee Gehrt added seven points and four assists.

"This is a really strong group," Jensen said. "I've got a handful of other girls who at any time might go off for double digits."

That's helped Carlson, who has been expanding her basketball knowledge.

"That's what I focused on in the summer is my IQ," Carlson said. "It's gotten a lot better.

"Especially playing with different girls, you have to figure it out. On our team we have so many good shooters."

So, too, does Montini (6-2), which made things interesting down the stretch, cutting a 17-point deficit down to one behind the play of Matulevicius, who scored 13 of her team-high 20 points in the second half, and Nikki Kerstein, who added 12 of her 16 points after intermission.

The Broncos trailed 53-48 when Alyssa Epps took a charge from Carlson, who fouled out on the play with 2:07 left.

Matulevicius, a Northern Illinois recruit, scored on a layup with 16 seconds left to make it 53-52. Batavia missed two free throws with 7.8 ticks left, but with both teams out of timeouts, Montini had to settle for an off-balance 3-pointer from Kerstein that missed.

"I'm so proud," Carlson said. "Everyone knows their role and what they have to do.

"Even if I'm not in the game, I have 100% faith in my team for wining the game. It was amazing to see that all turn out well."

Montini coach Shannon Spanos was pleased to see the Broncos rally, but not with her team's start. The Broncos have lost two straight after a 6-0 start.

"It would have been a nice win," Spanos said. "We have to come out with better energy in the first half.

"That's been our nemesis. We have to set the tone and to have to dig yourself out of a hole that big is difficult, but I love the effort and energy we put in the second half. Unfortunately, it was a little bit too late."

That was especially true of the Broncos' defense against Carlson, who had 15 points in the first half.

"We took a charge on her and she got that fifth foul," Spanos said. "We need our kids to do that in the first half, not in the last minutes of the game.

"She's a nice player. She's a great kid and we knew she was going to be a handful."

So where does Carlson get her toughness? Opponents can blame her brother, Blake, who is six years older.

"I've always been really tough," Carlson said. "I've always had to play grades up or I played in the front yard with my brother, and he roughened me up.

"I feel like that's the biggest part of basketball is the heart. So all those toughness plays are me loving the game and what I want to do."

Downers Grove North 38, Nazareth 28: Downers Grove North senior Hope Sebek didn't know what to expect after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in March.

But as she endured months of grueling rehabilitation, the 5-foot-7 guard didn't lack for motivation.

"I didn't even know if I was going to come back or not," Sebek said. "But little by little and taking it day by day, I think was the most important part.

"I saw that benefitted me because I went through a lot of lows and obviously it brought me to highs. I knew my senior season was a big deal for me, so coming back stronger than ever was an important part."

Sebek is indeed stronger than ever and she's already had memorable moments, none better than her performance Saturday morning at the Chicagoland Invitational Showcase at Fremd.

Sebek scored a game-high 19 points as the Trojans upset Nazareth 38-28. The stunning result snapped Nazareth's 34-game winning streak and rates as one of the biggest wins in Downers North's history.

"It's up there," Downers North coach Stephan Bolt said. "Early morning games, you never know, but our kids were ready.

"I think defensively we were awesome. They started make some shots in the second half, but I think defensively the girls really bought in."

Nazareth (4-1), which won the Class 3A state championship last season and will compete in the Class 4A playoffs this season, had a significant size advantage but it didn't matter. The Trojans (7-1) were outrebounded 18-4 on the offensive glass, but the Roadrunners shot 11 for 56, including 4 for 25 from 3-point range.

"Coach Bolt is a really good coach," Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said. "He gums everything up.

"He makes you jack it up from the outside and if you're not shooting well, it's going to be a struggle. They've got really tough kids."

Sebek is one of them. The Trojans never trailed after freshman Campbell Thulin's 3-pointer broke a 4-4 tie, and Sebek tallied nine points in the second quarter to give North a 21-9 halftime cushion.

"She's a great athlete, but she's a tough-minded kid that wanted to get back on the floor for her senior year," Bolt said of Sebek. "She just got cleared a week before the season."

Sebek returned to action just eight months after her surgery. The rehab strengthened her physically and mentally and she didn't go through it alone, which was also true for Saturday's action.

"I had a lot of people on my side, so that was very helpful," Sebek said. "I couldn't do it without my team. "We practice plays a lot because we were sure what they were going to do. We didn't think too much about it."

Sebek wasn't thinking when she got the ball near midcourt with time running out at the end of the third quarter. She launched a 25-footer which beat the buzzer and also turned the tide back in favor of the Trojans.

Nazareth had been on an 8-0 run and had held the Trojans scoreless for 4:25 until Sebek's 3 gave North a 30-17 lead.

"I can't even describe how I was feeling," Sebek said. "I just kind of chucked it up there and hoped for the best.

"I kind of saw it was going in. It was the best surprise."

Nazareth held all of Downers North's other players in check, including senior forward Kaitlyn Parker, who finished with seven points. So Sebek's production was vital.

"That gave us a little cushion, honestly, a little momentum going into the fourth," Bolt said of the buzzer-beater. "When Parker gets more attention, some other kids can benefit from that.

"Hope does a great job and I'm just proud of the whole group."

Nazareth was playing without senior guard Amalia Dray, a Boston College soccer recruit who was playing in a club soccer tournament, but Stritzel said that isn't an excuse. Freshman Sophia Towne scored all of her team-high eight points in the second half, but the Roadrunners could get no closer than seven points.

"They were the better team today," Stritzel said. "Every loose ball it seemed like we were almost going to get it. You've got to win those 50-50 balls and Downers North got them all."

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