Julia Martinez had the look of a player who was not going to lose Thursday.
The junior guard scored a game-best 26 points to lead No. 3-seeded Loyola to a 47-31 win over No. 6 Evanston in the Class 4A regional final at Lane Tech. Her eight points in the last 3 minutes, 30 seconds of the third quarter gave the Ramblers (24-5) a 31-24 lead going into the fourth and the separation they desperately needed.
Martinez continued to assert herself in the final quarter, starting with a steal and layup to put Loyola ahead 35-24 with 6:34 left on the clock. The Wildkits (20-9) never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
“I told her she was going to win it for us,” Loyola head coach Jeremy Schoenecker said. “She was a rock star in the second half.”
Winners of seven in a row, the Ramblers move on to play No. 7 Maine South on Monday in the sectional semifinal at Maine East. The Hawks beat No. 2 Proviso East 48-45 at Mather in the regional final.
Martinez, who scored 17 points in the second half, finished with 10 rebounds, five steals and three assists.
But she had help.
Senior forward Lilly Wehman had nine points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Her defense in the post made it difficult for Evanston to score.
“She really challenged them,” Schoenecker said. “When Lilly plays defense like that, it changes how teams get to the hole.”
Senior guards Adie Morrill and Erin Dillon were calm under pressure in the fourth quarter and enabled the Ramblers to control the ball in the closing minutes. Junior forward Celia Satter also contributed to the win by scoring the first basket of the fourth and later by chasing down a loose ball on the offensive end to maintain a possession. Satter finished with six points and four rebounds.
The win was extra sweet for the Ramblers, who lost to Evanston 47-43 on Jan. 6. Loyola also had lost to the Wildkits in the sectionals three of the last four seasons.
“It’s amazing,” Martinez said. “To knock them out is an unbelievable feeling, but it’s not over yet.”
Added Schoenecker: “It’s nice to over that hump, but we have to keep plugging away.”
The regional title was Loyola’s second in a row and the fifth in Schoenecker’s 10 seasons. The Ramblers last won a sectional title in 2012 when the team placed fourth.
No. 1 Maine West plays No. 5 New Trier in the other semifinal at Maine East. The sectional final is Thursday.
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola