On the trip to Arizona last week, the Loyola girls basketball team discovered something about itself.
“We are tougher than we thought,” Loyola head coach Jeremy Schoenecker said. “We can play physical.”
That was evident in Thursday’s 45-41 win over Evanston on the road.
Junior guard Erin Dillon made a long 2-pointer that gave Loyola a 40-39 lead, and the Ramblers went 4-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 49 seconds to pull off the upset of the Wildkits, who entered the game ranked No. 7 by the Chicago Tribune. Evanston was without senior guard and Western Michigan-bound Leighah-Amori Wool, who was injured in the team’s last game at Montini’s holiday tournament.
“Arizona shed light on how tough we can be,” said Loyola senior guard Madison Kane, who beat Evanston for the first time in her three varsity seasons. “We hadn’t faced a lot of physicality before then, and we showed we can push back against teams that play that way. It was a good thing to see.”
Loyola (13-5) built a 36-28 lead at the 5:32 mark of the fourth quarter on senior forward Clare Nelson’s layup. But Evanston (16-3) went on a 9-0 run to go up 37-36. The two teams traded leads before Dillon’s jumper from the left wing.
Sophomore guard Julia Martinez secured the win with her two free throws with 14 seconds to go. She finished with a team-best 16 points.
Loyola played the last 3:40 without junior forward Lilly Wehman, who fouled out. The 6-foot-2 Wehman had been a big presence in the post, going up against Evanston’s 6-foot senior forward Krystal Forrester.
But Nelson, senior forward Kasidy Caldwell stepped up in her absence. From her guard position, Kane had two big rebounds in the final 68 seconds to limit Evanston to one shot.
“Losing Lilly was hard,” Schoenecker said. “She controls the paint for us. But Clare, Kasidy and [sophomore guard] Celia [Satter] did a fantastic job. I thought we did a better job of controlling the glass late and allowing them one shot and one shot only. We kept talking about all five girls hitting the glass. Everybody had to get down and dirty.”
Loyola improved to 4-1 against teams at the Class 4A Niles West Sectional. The Ramblers play Niles North and Maine South later this month. Each win strengthens Loyola’s case for a high seed. The Ramblers will be competing with Evanston, Glenbrook South, Maine South and Trinity for the top spots, according to Schoenecker.
“This is a big win for us,” Kane said. “We’ve been in positions to beat them before and didn’t pull it off. We know how much it stung to lose to them last year. We really pushed ourselves in the last four minutes of the game.”
Nelson finished with 11 points, and Kane added seven points.
Loyola plays Batavia at Fremd at 1:45 p.m. Saturday.