Carmel beats Vernon Hills for regional championship

In her 109th and final game on Carmel Catholic's hardwood Thursday night, Corsairs senior Grace Sullivan floored 'em with a unique triple in a Class 3A girls basketball regional final against visiting Vernon Hills.

The 6-foot-4 forward swatted a shot attempt - imagine the sound of a volleyball player striking a loud kill - picked up the loose ball and then hustled to the other end of the court for an easy layup.




The scintillating sequence unfolded in the middle of the third quarter and highlighted Carmel's 70-45 victory in Mundelein.

"What a career she's had here," Carmel coach Ben Berg said of the Bucknell University recruit. "I don't remember her first game, but I certainly remember what she did on this court in a sectional semifinal."

Sullivan netted 16 points in a double-overtime defeat of Marengo in 2019.

"I was just a little freshman then," a smiling Sullivan, clutching a 2022 regional championship plaque, recalled.

Little? She stood 6-3 back then.

First-seeded Carmel (23-7) will face fourth-seeded St. Viator - a 55-51 victor over Lake Forest in the Wauconda regional final Thursday night - in a Grayslake Central sectional semifinal next Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Sullivan (15 points, 11 rebounds) was one of five Corsairs to reach double figures in scoring against a game, resilient Vernon Hills (13-15) squad, an 11th seed that trailed 22-13 after one quarter but hit the hosts with 7-0 run at the outset of the second frame.

Carmel responded quickly with an 8-0 surge to go up 30-20 at the 3:25 mark, getting 4 points from 6-5 junior guard Jordan Wood (game-high 18 points) and 2 points apiece from sophomore guards Anna Hartman (12 points, 4 boards) and Ashley Schlabowske (12 points, including 2 3-pointers).

Junior forward Mia Gillis finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds.

"Great team," Cougars coach Paul Brettner said of the Corsairs, who led 36-23 at the half and 53-33 after three quarters. "Ben's players wore us down a bit. That's a team that plays quality basketball all 32 minutes. That's what our program strives to do each season."

Junior center Grace Koepke paced the Cougars with team highs of 14 points and 11 rebounds, with 7 of her caroms coming off the offensive glass. Classmate Alexa Cieslinski, a 6-1 guard, poured in 12 points, and forward Ava Barszcz, another junior, totaled 9 of her 11 points from 3-point terrain.

"Had this been an early-season game, with the deficit (20-9) we faced in the first quarter, we would not have been able to get back in it," Brettner said. "Not tonight. I was proud of the growth our team showed in the second quarter and in parts of the second half."

Carmel's stellar ball movement led to baskets, quite often. The Corsairs' unselfish guards passed quickly and decisively, and their post players - also unselfish - appeared more interested in amassing assists than they did in generating points.

Hartman had authored the play of the first half before Sullivan's triple play. The 5-6 guard collected a steal near midcourt and, a nanosecond later, whipped a pass down low to Schlabowske, who then scored an easy bucket.

"We know each other so well; we're all best of friends," Sullivan said. "Our connections on the court are so good."

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