The Nazareth Academy girls basketball team made more history at the IHSA Class 3A Concordia University Supersectional in River Forest on Monday, Feb. 26
After winning its first-ever sectional title in thrilling fashion over Fenwick, the Roadrunners guaranteed themselves the first state basketball trophy in school history with a 68-47 victory over Bogan. In just his second year at Nazareth, coach Ed Stritzel has guided the team to a 30-2 record.
"It feels amazing," Nazareth senior center Alyssa Geary said. "All our hard work has paid off. This is such a special moment."
Teammate Marissa Metz added, "I never thought I'd be here. I never thought I'd have this opportunity."
Junior guard Annie Stritzel and tremendous team defense paved the way for the Roadrunners' trip to the state semifinals at Illinois State University.
Bogan had no answer for Annie Stritzel, who dominated the action with 34 points, 10 rebounds and five steals.
"She does that every game," Metz said about Coach Stritzel's daughter. "She's the type of player that no matter what's going on, she's going to go out there and drop 20-30 points. But she doesn't make it about herself; she makes it about the team."
From the opening tip, Annie Stritzel was aggressive on both ends of the floor, especially on offense. She knew it would be a physical game.
"I knew how they were going to come at us," she said. "I knew somebody had to step up. Coming into this game, I had a feeling it was going to be me.
"When we watched their film, we knew they weren't going to back down from us," she added. "We had to make our free throws and when they knocked us down, we had to get right back up."
Nazareth excelled on defense, holding Bogan to 30 percent shooting from the field and forcing 20 turnovers including 14 steals.
In the first quarter, the Roadrunners led only 18-13 despite getting 12 points from Annie Stritzel. Geary's early foul trouble allowed the Bengals to penetrate the lane for some baskets.
"Geary got three fouls in the first half so we had to pull her," Ed Stritzel said. "We were able to keep her on the floor in the second half. She didn't have one of her better games, but she's such a threat who opens things up for us."
Jovanna Martinucci and Sophia Cullotta came up with several timely baskets to help increase the Roadrunners' lead to 35-23 at the half.
"The key to this game was playing hard," Martinucci said. "Even if you messed up, you had to get over it and move on to the next play. We stayed focused.
"I'm so happy. I'm even happier that I'm going with this team. We're such good friends and we're happy to experience this together."
In the third quarter, Annie Stritzel burned the Bengals for 11 points as Nazareth boosted its advantage to 51-37. Then Geary, Martinucci, and Annie Stritzel combined for a 6-0 spurt early in the fourth quarter to put away Bogan (21-9).
Geary and Martinucci finished with 12 points apiece, and Martinucci added five assists. Cullotta (6 points, 5 rebounds) and Metz (4 points, 6 rebounds) contributed for the victors.
Tionne Colyer led Bogan with 16 points and Lamarria Johnson added 10 points and seven rebounds. Brittish Keys and Armani Turner scored seven points each. Keys grabbed 15 rebounds as the Bengals won the battle on the boards 43-31.
While Annie Stritzel will be making her second trip Downstate, it will be the first time with her father as coach. Both are thankful for the moment, even if their journey isn't complete.
"It's been a special year, but we don't want to peak on February 26; we want to peak on March 3," Ed Stritzel said. "A lot of teams are satisfied just getting Downstate. We want to have fun too, but we have a plan. We want to bring home a state championship."
Annie Stritzel is equally excited.
"It's unbelievable." she said. "To share this with my dad is special. It's something we talked about this whole season. I really can't put it into words. I love my team and coaching staff."
Annie Stritzel and Geary have experience playing Downstate. Both played on Trinity's team which took third in the 2016 4A playoffs.
"It's a college court and there are a lot of big lights. Depth perception is different, too," Annie Stritzel said about playing at Illinois State's Redbird Arena. We need to keep our composure and play our game. We need to focus on what we've been doing."
Nazareth (30-2) takes on Breese Central in the 3A semifinals on Friday. Tip-off is 12:45 p.m.