Girls basketball: Amalia Dray, Nazareth defense drop Kenwood, win 4A sectional

Nazareth junior Amalia Dray

CHICAGO – Nazareth Academy senior Amalia Dray soon will be playing women’s soccer for Boston College.

The starting guard easily does as much running – if not more – playing at the top of the Roadrunners’ tenacious zone defense with senior Mary Bridget Wilson, a teammate since fifth grade.

“I’m a defender in soccer so I always get the kick balls (to stop passes), which helps I guess,” Dray said. “Basketball helps me in soccer, too. They help vice versa all of the time just with my foot speed and being able to stay in front of people.”

Dray contributed to one of the Roadrunners’ most impressive defensive efforts in beating Chicago Public League power Kenwood 50-37 Thursday to win the Class 4A Mother McAuley Sectional.

Sophomore Stella Sakalas (15 points, 13 rebounds) and seniors Olivia Austin (14 points, eight rebounds), Dray (12 points, six rebounds) and Danni Scully (nine points, six rebounds, four steals) handled the scoring for Nazareth (30-3), the defending 3A state champions that won its 20th straight game. Wilson had three steals and three assists.

The Roadrunners seek their third straight downstate trip Monday in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional against Homewood-Flossmoor (22-7), which lost to Kenwood 75-59 Nov. 17.

A 4A sectional champion in 2023, Kenwood (24-9) was held to a season-low Thursday after scoring at least 60 points 20 times. The Bulldogs’ previous lows were 49 points and 52 points twice in three losses.

“(Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel) always says if we can hold a team to 45 points, nobody can beat us,” Dray said. “They’re a really good team and it was hard to guard them but we were able to do that this game.”

The Roadrunners tried their best to thwart Kenwood guards Danielle Brooks and Ariella Henigan, who each had 14 points on a combined 10 for 31 shooting. Henigan scored 35 against Riverside-Brookfield in the regional final. Dray and Wilson scoped the perimeter while the 6-foot-1 Skalas and 6-0 Austin primarily monitored the wings and corners.

Kankakee and Benet are the Roadrunners’ only Illinois opponents to score more than 40 points.

“Our matchup zone is so difficult. The more the possession goes, the more our kids get excited and more frantic. I call it organized chaos, but they play it well,” Stritzel said. “This is one of our best defensive efforts. They score in the 70s and to hold them to 37 is amazing for us.”

The Roadrunners also had problems finding offense. Dray assisted there, too, with 11 points in the second quarter that included three 3-pointers.

Trailing 18-13 early in the second quarter, Nazareth scored 10 unanswered points – eight by Dray – and led 27-23 at halftime.

“Not mentally, but sometimes it’s a little tiring (in transition) but everybody does a good job of finding me,” Dray said. “We just do a good job of finding each other.”

In the third quarter, Sakalas took over offensively with nine points. Her only 3 opened a 36-25 lead but Kenwood closed to 40-34 by the end of the period. On the Broncos’ first two possessions of the fourth quarter, Sakalas blocked a shot and gained possession and Scully took her second defensive charge.

Driving baskets by Sakalas and Austin and two Scully free throws opened a 46-34 lead with 4:45 left.

“It feels great. I can’t wait (for Monday). We love playing with each other,” Wilson said. “It’s definitely up there (for us defensively) but we try to bring it every game. They score a lot of points every game so we wanted to stop that for sure.”

This victory had special meaning to Wilson, a Chicago resident who plays with Kenwood starters Brooks and Talya Tillman on her Chicago Hoops Express traveling basketball team.

In Tuesday’s semifinals, Kenwood avenged its loss to Whitney Young for the CPL championship.

“They’re a great team. I’m glad we got to play them and show that we can win some games, too,” Wilson said.