St. Charles East wins thriller over Willowbrook to claim regional crown

The odds were stacked against St. Charles East.

The odds were stacked against the Saints basketball team when it found itself with a new coach midway through its season.

The odds were stacked against St. Charles East as it took the floor against Willowbrook on its home court Thursday night for a regional championship.

The odds were most certainly stacked against the Saints when their 12-point second half lead had vanished with a minute to play. However, sophomore Lexi DiOrio found herself in the right place at the right time when it mattered most for the game-winning layup with 40 seconds to go to give St. Charles East a 49-46 victory over Willowbrook to win the Class 4A Willowbrook Regional championship.

After teammate Torrie Kortan got her own rebound on a blocked shot, the senior found DiOrio alone under the basket for what proved to be the decisive bucket to give St. Charles East its first regional title since the 2014-15 season.

"I think this game summarized our whole season and showed how strong we are," DiOrio said. "We all came together and it wasn't easy, but we found a way to get the win and that's all that matters."

"We love to win ugly," Kortan added. "There's no other team that wins ugly like we do, but, hey, we find a way ... We're fighters. I don't think very many teams could have come back the way we did. We knew from the beginning of the season that this is a special team and it came down to wanting it more than them tonight."

Kortan was one of four Saints (20-6) in double figures with her team-high 13 points. DiOrio, Alexis Maridis and Cali Papez each added 10 points in the victory.

It was also Kortan that secured the loose ball after a tap out from DiOrio on Willowbrook's final offensive possession to help secure the Saints' spot in Tuesday's 4A Bartlett sectional semifinals against DuKane Conference rival Geneva or Schaumburg.

Kortan was one of four St. Charles East starters that battled foul trouble Thursday night during Willowbrook's furious comeback, but in the end coach Josh Foster saw his group find a way to hang on. Maridis had two important baskets in the final couple of minutes to help secure victory for the Saints, as well.

"I think we knew we were the tougher team, we just had to prove it," Foster said. "I think it's all about being mentally tough when the cards are stacked against you. We battled tonight and didn't get some calls, but that's going to happen. A 50-50 ball there at the end ends up in Torrie's hands, she hangs on, makes a free throw and that was it.

"The DuKane Conference prepares you for games like this. We play games like this every single night out. It's tough being in that conference when you're going through the grind of that schedule, but then you're truly ready for this kind of game."

Willowbrook senior guard Sophie Sullivan's attempt at a game-tying 3-pointer from just over half-court as time expired fell short. So did the Warriors, despite Sullivan's 19 points, 11 in the second half. Calli Kenny also added 14 points in the loss for Willowbrook (22-6).

"It was a great game. Both teams wanted it," Willowbrook coach Terry Harrell said. "[St. Charles East] did what we expected them to do, but they creep away from you. You look up at the scoreboard and are like 'how are we down 10?'. It was a good, competitive game and I feel bad for my seniors, but we have a lot of young, promising players so we'll be back."

Kortan, who admittedly has not beaten Geneva during her four years at St. Charles East, is looking forward to Tuesday's challenge. After two losses this season - 68-52 on Jan. 11 and 77-64 on Feb. 4 - Kortan doesn't believe her team is going to go quietly this time around.

The last time a St. Charles East team won a regional title in that 2014-15 season had its season ended by, you guessed it ... Geneva.

"We have a plan," Kortan said. "They may have beaten us [both times] this year, but we don't think we're going to go 0-3 against them."

Willowbrook's Sophia Sullivan sinks a layup against St. Charles East during the Class 4A regional championship game Thursday in Villa Park. Erica Benson/for Shaw Media
St. Charles East's Emma Yakey makes a basket during their regional game against Willowbrook Thursday Feb. 17, 2022. Erica Benson/for Shaw Media
Willowbrook's Nila Nytko makes a basket during their regional final game against St. Charles East Thursday Feb. 17, 2022. Erica Benson/for Shaw Media
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