Loyola’s success squarely rests with its game plan and execution.

Both were spot on in Friday’s 48-29 win over Maine South in the Class 4A regional final at Maine South. It was Loyola’s second consecutive regional championship.

“That was awesome,” Loyola senior guard Kevin Cunningham said. “We played exactly how we wanted to play.”

Like any head coach, Loyola’s Tom Livatino wasn’t ready to publicly declare Friday’s performance perfect.

“We definitely played a pretty good game,” Livatino said. “It helped to have a lot of time to prepare. Our guys were locked in all week and put in a tremendous amount of effort.”

The No. 4-seeded Ramblers (24-6) play No. 1 Evanston (23-5) on Tuesday in the Class 4A sectional semifinals at Maine East. Loyola lost to the Wildkits 43-40 on Feb. 6 in Evanston. Loyola last won a sectional title in 2014.

Courtesy of two Cunningham 3-pointers, the Ramblers jumped out to an 8-0 lead in their wire-to-wire win Friday. Loyola led 19-6 at intermission and held the Hawks to seven field goals for the game.

“Our whole defensive model was to grind them down,” Cunningham said. “The fast start was big for our confidence and energy.”

The game wasn’t without its challenges. While Cunningham scored nine points in the first quarter, he also was whistled for two fouls. He spent more than 12 minutes on the bench. It was the most he’s sat out in any game all season.

“That was frustrating,” Cunningham said. “But my teammates picked me up, and that was great to see. I know I can trust them.”

Maine South made a run in the third quarter to cut Loyola’s lead to five, 22-17, but the Ramblers responded with a 3-pointer from junior guard Connor Barrett (pictured above) and a basket by senior forward Pete Mangan to go ahead 27-17. Loyola went into the fourth up 29-20.

Barrett started the final quarter with his fourth 3. The Hawks never got closer than 10 again.

Barrett finished with a game-best 18 points, going 4-for-10 from 3-point range. He added five rebounds and two steals. Cunningham contributed 12 points. Mangan had three points, three assists and two steals.

Maine South entered the regional final averaging 56.5 points, and Loyola limited the Hawks to their fewest total of the season. Maine South’s previous low came in a 42-38 win over Niles West on Feb. 2.

“Defense travels,” Livatino said. “We are fortunate to have players who buy in to what we do. They work hard at it.”

Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola