The Trinity High School basketball team edged Montini 60-53 in overtime to win the Class 4A Hoffman Estates Supersectional on Monday night. With the victory, the Blazers advance to Friday’s state semifinals where they’ll face Benet at 8:15 p.m. at Redbird Arena in Normal.
Whitney Young faces Fremd at 6:30 p.m. in the first semifinal on Friday.
Trinity (28-5), which defeated rival Montini for the second time in three meetings this season, also knocked off Glenbrook South 39-23 in the New Trier Sectional championship game. The win was historic as it marked the first time in school history Trinity has won back-to-back sectional titles.
“Glenbrook South is a great team,” Valente said. “But we have two phenomenal on-the-ball defenders in Lauren Lee and Alisa Fallon. They shut (the Titans) down.”
Indeed, even though the Blazers were held to a season-low point total, they were never in serious danger of losing.
Dartmouth-bound senior point guard Annie McKenna, who had a game-high 16 points, scored seven of her team’s first 10 points to give the Blazers an early lead.
Trinity endured a 12-minute stretch in the first half where it scored just two points, but the Titans managed only to tie the game at 15-15 before the Blazers regained the lead. Glenbrook South (25-6) made only 3 of 19 shots after that.
The Blazers, who have won 10 straight games, have allowed an average of 30 points per game in their four playoff victories. Only eight opponents have managed to score 50 points.
“We do different types of traps,” Valente noted. “We’re not predictable and that makes teams tentative. We vary when we come to pressure the ball and that puts teams on their heels because they don’t know what to expect. They play scared.”
Trinity’s swarming defense is headed by Lee and Fallon up top but Valente said the linchpin is senior forward Kaitlyn Aylward, who not only is a strong scorer and rebounder but an intimidating presence in the paint. The St. Francis recruit scored 14 points against Glenbrook South and played her usual tough defense.
“She’s unbelievable,” Valente said. “We always put her on (the other team’s) toughest girls.
“Girls don’t want anything to do with her, so they pass it back out to the perimeter and that plays right into our hands.”
The Blazers are in good shape offensively when the ball is in the hands of McKenna. The four-year starter led Trinity in scoring last season and still takes a lot of big shots but has become tougher mentally this year.
“One of the things I think she’s realized this year is that as a point guard it’s not always about scoring,” Valente said. “It’s about her making her teammates around her better.
“It’s different from playing in sixth, seventh and eighth grade when the point guard can just drive to the basket and score all the time. It doesn’t always work that way. You have to create for your teammates and trust your teammates and she’s done that.”
McKenna also has bounced back from the rare games in which she hasn’t scored much. Such was the case last week after she was held to one point in Trinity’s 42-37 sectional semifinal win over Evanston.
The fact that the Blazers won that game, and the two in which McKenna was shut out this season, speaks volumes.
“She’s always pushing herself,” Valente said. “She feels she needs to be the best at all times but sometimes you have to look for others and not worry. I’m proud of her.”
Now the Blazers are three wins away from realizing their long-held dream of a state championship. But Monday’s game against Montini, which has split a pair of games with Trinity this winter, will not define the season.
“I think it’s a successful season no matter what,” Valente said. “The kids have learned life lessons and really matured as young ladies and that’s what defines success to me. They’re all going to be successful in life.
“We’ve overcome a lot of adversity. These girls are tough as nails. They’ve got thick skins.”
This story has been changed to correct the date of the state semifinal games. They are on Friday, March 4.