St. Viator upsets Wauconda to win regional title

Prior to the Class 3A girls basketball regional tournament, St. Viator had not won back-to-back games all season.

Now, the Lions are 2-0 in postseason play with their second regional championship in three seasons following Friday night’s 43-39 victory over No. 3 seed Wauconda (19-8) at Wheaton Academy.

With the win, the 10th-seeded Lions (9-24) advance to Tuesday’s 7:30 p.m. Antioch sectional semifinals against No. 2 seed Cary-Grove (20-11).

“That’s been our message all year – we have to continue to improve as a team and grow,” said St. Viator coach Kyle Braheny. “I’ve been saying it after every single tough loss we had – that we’ve got to be playing our best basketball down the stretch because come tournament time, everyone is 0-0.”

St. Viator led 10-7 after 1 quarter and 22-17 at halftime before the Bulldogs received an offensive jolt late in the third quarter.

Trailing 34-28, sophomore guard Alexia Manalo (8 points, 4 assists) completed a 4-point play at the buzzer to trim the Lions’ lead to 34-32 heading into the final 8 minutes.

Freshman Alessandra Rodriguez’ layup pulled Wauconda even at 34-all with 6:57 left.

From there, Lions senior guard Mia Bergstrom took over.

Bergstrom, a St. Louis University commit, broke the tie with a 3-pointer from the corner, and followed with an inside bucket on the next possession as the Lions grabbed a 39-34 lead with 5:32 remaining.

“It felt good to have a little cushion, but we knew we had to get it done defensively,” said Bergstrom.

St. Viator held Wauconda scoreless for 4-plus minutes down the stretch.

“We tied it and then we went cold,” said Bulldogs coach Jaime Dennis, whose team was looking for its first regional crown since 2011. “We were like 0-for-10 on the last several possessions. We put up shots but not quality shots.”

Bergstrom, who finished with a game-high 28 points and 9 rebounds, knocked down a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left to stretch the Lions’ lead to 43-36, sealing the decision.

“It’s a very good feeling,” said Bergstrom, who made all 7 of her free-throw attempts. “We came out and played the hardest we’ve ever played before, and we got the job done.”

Bergstrom tallied 16 of the Lions’ 21 second-half points.

“Mia has been a staple for us,” said Braheny. “She’s just the ultimate competitor. She hates to lose. You can see that in games like this.”

The Lions also received contributions from seniors Maeve McClellan (6 points), Andrea Rivera (2 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocked shots), Meghan Hayes (2 free throws with 53 seconds left, 3 steals), junior Maggie Ratzki (5 steals), and freshman Kalin McCrea (4 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).

“Each player has something different to offer,” said Braheny. “We have a lot of strengths on this team.”

St. Viator has adopted the underdog role.

“We knew coming in as a 10 seed – they don’t know us,” added the coach. “For a 10 seed to win a regional – it’s something special and a lot of credit to our players.”

Sophomore Sarah Palmer led Wauconda with 9 points.

“We knew we had to play 4 quarters and we only played 1,” said Dennis, whose team graduates 2 seniors. “We talked about that in the locker room. I told them, ‘remember how this feels because there’s a lot of you coming back next season.’”

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