When the IHSA released the postseason pairings, Loyola head coach Tom Livatino said Maine South was the toughest matchup for the Ramblers at the Class 4A Maine East Sectional.
The No. 4 seeded Ramblers (23-6) play the No. 5 Hawks (22-7) at 7 p.m. Friday in the regional final in Park Ridge. The winner advances to Tuesday’s sectional semifinals to play either No. 1 Evanston or No. 9 Notre Dame.
“They have five starters who can score, a good outside shooter and guys who can score inside,” Livatino said. “They rebound on offense. They play a difficult matchup zone. They are well-coached.”
He paused before adding: “And they are playing at home.”
After losing consecutive games to Evanston, St. Joseph and Fenwick by a total of 11 points late in the regular season, Loyola earned its second big win in a row by beating No. 14 Hersey 69-31 on Tuesday in the regional semifinals.
Senior forward Pete Mangan scored a career-high 19 points, finishing 9-for-9 from the field. Senior Kevin Cunningham had nine points, eight assists and five rebounds. Junior guard Connor Barrett contributed 15 points and five assists, while sophomore forward Bennett Kwiecinski had 10 points and two steals.
“We wobbled a bit down the stretch of the regular season,” Livatino said. “You can learn from that or get down on yourself. I think it made us better.”
Maine South comes into Friday having won eight of nine games, including its 61-42 win over No. 12 Niles West on Tuesday in the regional semifinals. The lone loss during that stretch was a 47-44 overtime defeat to New Trier, the sectional’s second seed.
The Hawks are headlined by 6-foot-7 senior forwards Tommy Gardiner and Grant Miller. The MIT-bound Miller averages 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds, while Gardiner averages 9.9 points and 6.6 rebounds.
Maine South’s backcourt consists of 6-4 senior guard Filip Bulatovic and 6-1 junior guard Essam Hamwi. Bulatovic averages 10.8 points, and Hamwi is first on the Hawks in scoring at 15.2 points a game. Hamwi has 85 3-pointers and shoots 45.7 percent from that distance.
The Hawks average 56.5 points, converting 51.7 percent from the field.
“They run their offense very well,” Livatino said. “They don’t have extra dribbles, don’t turn it over. They are very efficient.”
Maine South’s defense also presents a challenge for the Ramblers, according to Livatino.
“It’s a zone with some man-to-man switching,” he said. “It’s unconventional, and it’s not something we’ve seen this year.”
Loyola and Maine South shared four common opponents during the regular season in Evanston, Mount Carmel, New Trier and St. Rita. Both teams beat the Caravan and lost to the others.
This the first meeting between the Ramblers and Hawks since 2015 when Maine South defeated Loyola 42-40 at UIC on a buzzer-beater. Before that, the Ramblers beat the Hawks 42-37 for the 2014 Class 4A sectional title at Maine South.
“There’s a little history there with basketball and obviously with football,” Livatino said. “We are excited to compete, and I know our guys will be ready to play.”
Loyola won a Class 4A regional title last season at Zion-Benton.
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola