Loyola’s reward for winning its regional is a date Tuesday with top-seeded Evanston in the Class 4A sectional semifinals at Waukegan.
The Wildkits (26-3), the No. 1-ranked team by the Chicago Tribune, have been one of the best teams in the state all season. Two of their three losses came at out-of-state tournaments. Their lone loss in Illinois was a 65-63 overtime defeat to Naperville North on Jan. 21. The Huskies won a regional title at Batavia.
“Things are clicking for them,” said Loyola head coach Tom Livatino, who graduated from Evanston. “We are excited for the game and the opportunity.”
Senior and Purdue-bound Nojel Eastern is Evanston’s centerpiece. A four-year starter, the 6-foot-6 guard can do it all on the court and is a candidate for the state’s Mr. Basketball award.
But Livatino said Eastern’s supporting cast is what makes Evanston a complete team. He is complemented by senior guard Chris Hamil, senior forward Elyjah Williams and senior guard Malcolm Townsel. Sophomore guards Lance Jones and Jaheim Holden have been major contributors this season.
In a 55-35 win over Niles West in the regional semifinals, Williams finished with 17 points, Hamil had 13 and Townsel scored 12. Hamil’s 18 points led the way in a 59-42 win over CSL North champion Deerfield in the regional final. Eastern and Townsel each scored 12 apiece, while Williams added 10 points.
“They have five players on the floor who can defend and score at all times,” Livatino said. “They are the total package.”
Livatino said Evanston’s strength is how they guard and pressure the basketball. A key for the No. 4-seeded Ramblers (22-8) will be limiting turnovers and slowing down the Wildkits in transition.
According to the team’s website, Evanston held the Wolves to 27 percent from the field and the Warriors to 32 percent.
“They can take you out of what you do offensively,” he said. “They are a torture chamber.”
This is Loyola’s first trip to the sectionals since the 2013-14 season. The Ramblers beat Maine South for the program’s third sectional title.
In the other sectional semifinal, second-seeded Notre Dame (25-5) plays sixth-seeded Waukegan (20-8) on Wednesday. The regional final is Friday.
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola