Loyola head coach Jeremy Schoenecker said he isn’t counting moral victories at this time of the season, but he even admitted what the Ramblers did Thursday in the semifinals of the GCAC Red’s tournament was worthy of recognition.

Playing without their leader in every major statistical category, the Ramblers still had an opportunity in the fourth quarter to hand host Montini its first loss to an in-state opponent.

But the top-seeded Broncos, the Chicago Tribune’s No. 1-ranked team, avoided the upset to earn a 56-48 win to advance to Saturday’s conference championship game. Montini (25-1) plays second-seeded Trinity at Mother McAuley for the title. Loyola plays Mother McAuley for third place.

“I am so proud of our effort, and we had a lot of girls really rise to the occasion.” said Schoenecker, whose team lost to the Broncos 48-40 during the regular season in Lombard. “But this is the time of the year that you have to finish off games.”

Fourth-seeded Loyola (18-9) was without sophomore guard Julia Martinz, who sprained her right ankle in Tuesday’s quarterfinal game against Fenwick.

Nevertheless, the Ramblers played the talented Broncos close all game. In fact, Loyola led 28-21 at the half and 40-39 after three quarters. The Ramblers were ahead for 9 minutes, 14 seconds of the final 16 minutes.

Montini took its first lead of the second half on a post basket by 6-foot-3 junior forward Aaliyah Patty at the 5:39 mark of the fourth quarter. The Broncos upped their lead to 46-42, but the Ramblers tied the game at 46-all on two free throws by sophomore forward Celia Satter with 2:19 remaining in the fourth.

But 28 seconds later sophomore guard Sam Mitchell made a 3-pointer to put the Broncos ahead for good. Montini went 7-for-8 from the free throw line over the final 54.7 seconds to secure the win.

Junior guard Adie Morrill made three 3-pointers to lead Loyola with 11 points. Junior forward Lilly Wehman added 10 points, and senior forward Clare Nelson scored nine points. But the two of them combined to play good defense on Montini’s 6-5 Lindsey Jarosinski and Patty. Nelson was especially effective, creating three turnovers by denying entry passes into the posts.

“They both did phenomenal jobs,” Schoenecker said. “So did Adie Morrill, Celia Satter, Erin Dillon, Madison Kane.”

Dillon finished with eight points, while Satter had seven and Kane added three.

Schoenecker said Martinez will be out until at least the middle of next week. He said there’s a chance she could play limited minutes in the team’s Feb. 11 game against Kalamazoo Central (Michigan).

“We hope to have her ready for the [Class 4A] state tournament,” Schoenecker said.

The Ramblers learned Thursday they earned the No. 4 at the Class 4A Niles West Sectional. Evanston is No. 1, Glenbrook South is No. 2 and Maine West is No. 3. The IHSA will release the regional assignments and pairings Friday afternoon.