In the basement stairwell outside of the locker room, Loyola senior Connor Barrett clutched the Class 4A regional championship plaque in his right arm and looked like he was ready to take it home with him.
It would be hard to blame Barrett. After missing the last nine games of the regular season with a broken right foot, the captain was instrumental in Loyola’s run to a third consecutive Class 4A regional title, highlighted by Friday’s 37-34 win over Maine South at Rolling Meadows.
After a scoreless first half, Barrett totaled eight of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, and his two free throws with 14 seconds remaining made it a one-possession game. He added three assists.
The Ramblers (21-12) forced Maine South (23-10) into a miss on the other end and secured the loose ball to set off the celebration. Loyola beat the Hawks in the regional final last year.
“This is what we’ve been building for the whole year,” Barrett said.
Tied 12-all at the half, No. 3-seeded Maine South scored the first five points of the third quarter to assume control. The Hawks led 28-23 at the 7:33 mark of the fourth.
A Barrett 3-pointer and a putback by junior Bennett Kwiecinski evened the score at 28-all with with 6 minutes, 1 second remaining.
Kwiecinski’s two free throws with 1:42 to go gave the Ramblers their first lead of the second half at 33-32. After a defensive stop, senior and captain Quinn Pemberton scored on a driving layup to make it 35-32.
“When Quinn scores like that, we are a tough team to beat,” Loyola head coach Tom Livatino said. “He’s been super steady all year.”
The Hawks got within one on two free throws, but the Ramblers held them without a field goal for the final 3:37.
“I’m proud of our team,” Pemberton said. “We had to fight to get that win.”
Pemberton finished with 12 points and three assists. Kwiecinski added nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Junior Jordan Kwiecinski, who’s been a defensive stopper, started the game with a steal and had two blocks. Junior Matty Enghauser, another captain, took the team’s one charge.
“We did an amazing job of guarding them the way we wanted, and our guys made plays,” Livatino said.
The No. 6-seeded Ramblers play No. 7 Schaumburg on Wednesday in the sectional semifinals at Niles North. Top-seeded Evanston plays No. 5 Glenbrook South on Tuesday. The sectional final is Friday.
Loyola last won a sectional title in 2014.
“The regional means a lot to our seniors,” Livatino said. “They want to leave a legacy, on and off the court, but we have more to do.”