BRAIDWOOD — The calling card for Seneca girls basketball this season has been an ability to pressure opponents defensively from endline to endline, and that M.O. was a big factor in producing a third-straight 20-win campaign.
As expected, nothing much changed for the No. 6-seeded Lady Irish (23-7) in their postseason opener in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A Reed-Custer Regional against No. 10 seed Manteno (6-23) on Monday night.
Seneca used its defense to create offense — forcing double-digit miscues by Manteno — in the opening eight minutes to race out to a 21-9 advantage before outscoring the Panthers 30-9 the rest of the way to a dominant, 51-18 victory.
Rita Jashari led Seneca with a game-best 14 points, while Madison Bromberek and Mara Bruno added nine points apiece.
The win advances the Lady Irish to Tuesday night's semifinal against No. 3-seeded Beecher (26-5) at 7:30 p.m. back here in Braidwood.
"I thought we did what we had to do," said Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle. "We thought coming into tonight we would be able to pressure (Manteno) and turn them over, which we were able to do in that first quarter. They knocked down a couple 3s there to give them a little momentum, but I thought we reacted to that really well and just kept playing our game."
Seneca jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead after hoops each from Bromberek, Jashari and Brooklyn Giertz. Jashari would later add an old-fashioned three-point play and 10-foot jumper, while consecutive layups by Carly Greve and Mara Bruno closed out the frame with the locals holding a 12-point margin.
The Lady Irish, despite coming up empty on a dozen or more point-blank shots, ultimately put the contest away by netting the first seven markers of the second stanza to lead 28-10 at the intermission.
"That's us, and honestly we've done a lot of that this year," said O'Boyle with a slight frustrated laugh. "The goal is that we get enough turnovers that enough of those bunnies we fall into keep us on top. We did that tonight."
Seneca went on to post a 17-3 third quarter to make it 45-13 and force a running-clock final period.
"This is the position we wanted to be in. We feel a little slighted with our seed, but in order to do that we have to come out and take care of business the next two games," O'Boyle said of the semifinal berth. "I just told them in the locker room, we need to play with a chip on our shoulders (Tuesday night) and scratch, claw and fight and see if we can get to (championship) night."
The Lady Irish, winners in 11 of their last 12 outings, will take a five-game winning streak into the game with the Ladycats, who have only one loss in 2020.
"(Beecher) is going to be a team that puts five really good athletes on the floor, much like we do," O'Boyle said. "They are going to play a really tough man-to-man defense, different from what we saw here tonight with Manteno's zone.
"We're going to have to be ready to go from the start. Beecher is a very good team, and they are 25-6 for a reason. We'll play the underdog role and see what we can do."