PEOTONE — We have all experienced that thrill — whether it be at a small county fair or a big amusement park — of the mix of screaming and laughing while strapped into a favorite ride.
That would also describe the past few weeks of postseason play for the Seneca girls basketball team, coaches and loyal fans as the squad captured a regional title along with its first sectional championship since 2002.
Unfortunately for the Lady Irish (27-8), their ride finally came to end with a 65-35 setback to two-time defending Class 2A state champion Chicago Marshall (21-10) at the Peotone Supersectional on Monday night.
"I just hope what everyone takes away from our team this year is that we were one that left it all on the floor," said senior guard Rita Jashari, who averaged a team-best 15 points per game in the postseason. "I want them to remember our effort, our attitude and the way we picked our teammates up.
"It's not about the scoreboard or who won or lost, but who played with all their heart. That is what Seneca High School does, that's Lady Irish basketball.
"We put three banners in the school, and it's a lot to take in. I'm upset we didn't win tonight, but I'm taking the good out of this that we learned so much along the way and we grew as a team.
"It was a great ride."
Seneca started strong against the Commandos, building leads of 4-0, 6-3 and 12-9 in the opening four minutes behind a pair of hoops from junior center Madison Bromberek (11 points, nine rebounds), three free throws from Jashari (seven points, five assists) and a 3-pointer from the left wing from senior Cassidy Draves (five points, four rebounds).
Then, after a time out, Marshall seemed to put things into another gear, netting the final 14 points of the opening quarter to lead 23-12. In the first for the Commandos, Jalyn Jimenez swished a trio of 3s and posted 13 of her game-high 16 points, while Roquesha Sims scored eight.
Seneca received hoops each by Draves, Jashari, Bromberek and Mara Bruno (five points, seven boards) early in the second quarter to stay within striking distance, but speedy Marshall — which shot 55% in the half, 51% for the game and forced 23 Lady Irish turnovers — used 10 of Jayonna Smith's 12 points to close out the half on a 12-5 spurt to head into intermission up 44-25.
"Their run-outs were at a different level, just at a different speed than we have seen, and if they shoot like they did tonight there probably isn't anyone they will beat them this weekend (at state) either," said Seneca coach Ted O'Boyle. "They were just on fire tonight in the first half, and it's going to be a tough task to recover from that. There is a reason they are the two-time defending state champs.
"We have had a heck of a season, and look at what we went through to get where we were. It wasn't like we had an easy road to this game, but we have played the last five or six games at an amazingly high level, and I couldn't be any prouder of the effort this team gave tonight and all season. This was a special group.
"All season long, we have teams adapting to what we do, but tonight we had to try and adjust to what Marshall did, and we just didn't have the speed to do so."
Marshall stayed strong in the third quarter, outscoring Seneca 14-4 before a trey by Jimenez in the opening 30 seconds of the fourth invoked the running clock.
"We figured we would need to try and control their point guard No. 10 (Brooklyn Giertz) with our press and No. 13 (Bromberek) in the lane and on the boards," said legendary Marshall coach Dorothy Gaters. "We are going to do what we do on both ends of the floor, but we wanted to limit those two players as much as we could.
"We had to make some corrections late in the first quarter, because we weren't paying enough attention to their other players like No. 2 (Draves) and No. 15 (Jashari), and they were hurting us. We were giving up too many offensive rebounds as well.
"We cleaned that up quickly and were able to get back to playing Marshall basketball."