Leyden's layup at buzzer lifts Maine South over Evanston

Tuesday was 2-22-22 on the calendar and Maine South's girls basketball team was playing in its 22nd sectional.

So who led the Hawks with a team-high 16 points? None other than their only starter with a 2 on her jersey.

No. 20 Emily Pape, headed to play at Cornell, not only tossed home a team-high 16 points but her 14th point gave her 1,000 for her career.

But the winning points of the game came from 5-foot-11 freshman Caitlin Leyden, who took a great pass from sophomore Meegan Fay with the clock winding down.

Leyden converted the winning layup just before the final buzzer sounded for a 43-41 victory that propelled the No. 2-seeded Hawks (23-8) into Thursday's title game of the Glenbrook South Class 4A sectional against No. 1 Loyola (30-3) at 7 p.m.

"We were hustling the whole game and we powered through it," Leyden said. "When Emily hit her 1,000 point (two free throws for a 38-35 lead with 5:35 left in the game) I think that really gave us the energy. I never dreamed I'd get the last basket but I was wide open and Meegan made a great pass."

"Cailin joined us in the middle of the season and we've learned how to play together with her and she has gotten very comfortable," Pape said. "She is totally fine and confident now so we trust her for sure."

Pape became the tenth girl in program history to reach 1,000 points.

"Emily was a role player as a sophomore and then she had a shortened junior season (due to COVID-19) and now she is having a remarkable senior season," said Hawks coach Jeff Hamann. "I've said this many, many times that she deserves every accolade (more than 500 points) she has earned this year. She has worked incredibly hard on her game and she is an outstanding role model on and off the court.

"Quite honestly, she had no idea about this (reaching 1,000 points). All her teammates are so proud of her as you saw in the reception she got and it's well deserved."

It was a game neither team deserved to lose.

"It was unfortunate that anyone had to lose this game," Hamann said. "I was very, very proud of our girls playing in a sectional and they fought and fought for this game. And credit to Evanston. What an outstanding basketball team and their kids played their hearts out."

From 2-2 to 14-14, the first half was tied seven straight times before Ava Blagojevich's 15-footer from the baseline and a 17-footer from the left side put the Hawks in front 18-14 with 3:39 left in the second quarter.

Evanston came back to take a 19-18 lead, thanks to a layup by Ciara Gentile and a 3-point play by Dawson Wright.

Blagojevich went right back to work, hitting a 3-pointer to give the Hawks a 21-19 lead before Gentile's layup just before the buzzer tied the game for the eighth time (21-21) at intermission.

A driving layup by Kailey Starks (game-high 21 points) tied the game for the ninth time at 23 before the Hawks grabbed the lead on Fahy's 3-pointer with 5:18 left in the third quarter.

A free throw and an 8-foot bank shot by Leyden gave South a 36-30 lead with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.

But Leyden's biggest shot would be the final one of the game.

"We believe in all our kids who play in our program," said Hamann, whose team won the Central Suburban League title. "And obviously Caitlin is one of them. And I don't want to discount that pass from Meegan. Our game plan was to get the ball to Meegan and let her create and she did just that.

"When you are playing a conference opponent for a third time, it doesn't matter who won before. We obviously split with them but this was going to be a battle. Both teams know each other so well and credit Evanston and how well prepared they were for us."

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