WILMINGTON — The road came to an end for the Joliet Catholic Academy girls basketball team on Thursday night, while the Seneca Lady Irish kept riding high right into Class 2A Elite Eight.
Seneca defeated JCA, 40-36, in the championship game of the Class 2A Wilmington Sectional. The Lady Irish (27-7) now advance to the Peotone Supersectional and will play Chicago Marshall, a Thursday night winner over Lisle, at 7 p.m. Monday for the right to advance to the IHSA State semifinals.
It was the first sectional title for Seneca since 2002.
Brooklyn Giertz, the junior point guard for the Lady Irish, controls everything for the team on the offensive end, and admitted she was a little nervous, especially during the fourth quarter.
"It was nerve-racking, but this feels awesome," Giertz said. "I wasn't even born the last time a Seneca team won a sectional title. We have used the fact that we were seeded sixth (in Seneca's half of the sectional), and that didn't sit well with any of us, so that has been a big motivating factor."
With the stands packed on both sides, the atmosphere was electric as the teams went toe-to-toe the entire contest.
A steal and basket by the Angels' Jenna Hernandez put JCA up 36-33 with 4:42 left, but they did not score again.
They had opportunities, as the Lady Irish went just 3 of 10 at the free-throw line the remainder of the game, but Seneca got stops on the other end to seal the sectional deal.
In that fourth quarter, JCA (17-18) turned the ball over after a timeout as they trailed 38-36 after Seneca had missed two free throws. Six seconds later, the Lady Irish again missed two free throws, but they got the rebound, and Arberita Jashari then hit two free throws to finish the scoring with seven seconds remaining.
"We missed some opportunities," JCA coach Jim O'Brien said. "Their zone gave us a little trouble, but we made an adjustment at halftime, and we came out and played well to start the second half."
JCA led 10-6 after the first quarter, 19-18 at the break and 32-31 after three quarters. Neither team had a lead larger than four points from the middle of the second quarter on.
JCA led 13-8 with 3:36 left before the half, but Seneca went on a 6-0 run. At the beginning of the third quarter JCA looked in control again, but Seneca put together a 7-0 run with 4:13 left in the third. From that point on, the largest margin was the final score.
The big difference for Seneca was the inside play of Madison Bromberek, as the 6-1 junior grabbed 10 rebounds on the night, with seven coming in the second half. She was limited to just four first-half points, but scored 10 in the second half.
The Lady Irish dominated the boards overall, as Mara Bruno grabbed 11 rebounds and contributed five points. Jashari scored 13 points and also grabbed seven rebounds.
"We told our girls that this would be a physical game because of the schedule they (JCA) play," Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle said. "The last four games, our girls' effort has been tremendous, and they had to match that physical play tonight, and they did. Surviving that fourth quarter just shows you how mentally tough this team is. ...
"This means a lot, not only to our team and program, but to the community. The atmosphere tonight was tremendous, our fans are so supportive, and that makes a difference."