PALOS HEIGHTS – After scoring just two points in the opening half of Friday's Class 2A Chicago Christian Regional title game, Joliet Catholic Academy senior Mia Bertino realized that she had to make more of an impact if she didn't want to see her fine career at the school come to an unexpected early end.
Trailing Chicago's Butler College Prep by five points at the break, Bertino proceeded to collect her team's next 14 points thanks to four 3-pointers to put the Angels in front for good and Jasmine Brown scored eight of their last 10 points to help JCA rally for a 45-39 win that gave the program its first regional championship since 2016.
Bertino and Brown each scored 16 points to lead the Angels (16-17), who advanced to Tuesday's Wilmington Sectional where they'll play Fieldcrest in a 7:30 p.m. game. Fieldcrest won 37-32 over El Paso-Gridley in Friday's Pontiac Regional finals while Prairie Central beat Watseka 66-34 in the Hoopeston Area Regional and meets Seneca in the other semifinal.
JCA, which only turned the ball over five times in the game, limited the Lynx to just five baskets and 13 points in the final half, with four of those coming in the last 20 seconds.
"I think that our effort was tremendous tonight and we really wanted this win so we all stepped it up a notch," Bertino said. "Just going from 0-27 my freshman year to being regional champs this year makes this a surreal moment. The team played well and we all worked together."
Butler, which was led by 12 points each from Camille Jackson and Jamyira Lane, took a 13-7 lead after one quarter and added a 3-pointer early in the second quarter to build its biggest lead at 16-7 and JCA still trailed 26-21 at halftime, with Brown scoring eight points and Emma Jay (seven rebounds) scoring all seven of her points.
"It was a great team win," Jay said. "There was a lot of good passing and people were making the extra pass. And we played really good help defense and everyone was playing hard and getting rebounds."
In the third quarter, Bertino hit two 3-pointers and a jumper to pull JCA to within 31-29 at the break and hit a three to give her team their first lead at 32-31 and another with 6:08 left to put them in front for good at 35-33.
Brown completed an old-fashioned 3-point play a minute later and then made a layup with 3:11 left to complete the decisive 8-0 run. Butler got no closer than five points back after that as Brown hit three free throws and Jenna Hernandez (six rebounds) added two more.
"We were not losing that game since we didn't get here for nothing," Brown said. "Our conference is strong so I'm really proud of us since we're built for what we're going to see."
After seeing his team fall behind by nine points just over nine minutes into the game, Angels coach Jim O'Brien was understandably pleased with their comeback effort.
"I'm so proud of the kids and their defensive effort," O'Brien said. "We preach defense. We knew they were bigger than us so we struggled on the boards early, but the final numbers were pretty close. We didn't play a lot of kids but it was a great team effort."