Girls basketball: Montini claims third place in 3A with 45-42 triumph over Hinsdale South

Broncos recover from semifinal loss for 3-point victory

Montini's Shea Carver shoots over a Lincoln defender during their game Friday, March 1, 2024, in the IHSA Class 3A state semifinal at the CEFCU Arena at Illinois State University in Normal.

NORMAL – Four years later, Montini girls basketball again can bask in the state spotlight.

The Broncos rode a strong second-half effort to a 45-42 victory over Hinsdale South in the Class 3A state third-place game March 1 at CEFCU Arena on the campus of Illinois State University.

The Broncos, who lost to undefeated Lincoln in the state semifinals, earned a hard-fought consolation prize, capturing the third-place trophy after a four-year state drought when they placed third in Class 3A in 2020.

“Our expectations coming down here was to be a state champion,” Montini fourth-year coach Shannon Spanos said. “Coming into our second game tonight, it was hard. It’s difficult to play two games with a quick turnaround like that, but I thought the girls played well in that second game.

“It wasn’t our prettiest effort, but they grinded through it.”

The Broncos will be a completely different team next season after the graduation of the four-year trio of Victoria Matulevicius, Alyssa Epps and Riley White. The three players were instrumental in leading the Broncos back to life after a rough first season. Junior guard Nikki Kerstein, a transfer from Deerfield who played in the 3A state tournament last season, joins junior guard Shea Carver as two of the building blocks for the program.

“The expectation is now set,” Spanos said. “We’ve gotten here and they had a taste of [state]. Our three seniors that are leaving set our culture and our program culture and they will be missed, but the juniors know they have to step up.”

Carver played one of her best games of the season, knocking down four 3s for a game-high 18 points. Matulevicius chipped in 11 points, eight rebounds and two steals.

Hinsdale South (26-12) had two players in double figures, led by freshman point guard Brynn Diedrich’s 11 points. Amerie Flowers, a four-year varsity starter, collected 10 points and seven rebounds.

“It’s really important because we want [state] to be the standard,” Hinsdale South coach Scott Tanaka said. “For the young girls to experience this and for something to strive for each and every year, it’s really important we see what state is like and experience and learn from it so we can do better from our finish this year.”

The Broncos (30-8) bounced back in the second game of the day behind a strong surge late in the third quarter. Montini relied on its vast number of experienced players to seize control. Carver and Matulevicius fueled the game-turning surge for a 30-24 lead after three quarters.

Carver added a few more highlights to her season tape by nailing a 3-pointer and adding a three-point play on back-to-back fourth-quarter trips to extend the lead to 36-26. The Hornets lowered the gap to 38-32 after a lay-in by Flowers, but the Broncos hit some key free throws to pull out the victory.

The Hornets showed some fatigue in the second half after a tough semifinal loss to Glenwood in the morning. The second state trip in program history – and first since 1977 – ended without a victory in two games March 1, but the Hornets gained valuable experience playing under the bright lights.

Although four-year foundation-building players Flowers and Amelia Lavorato won’t be back, the future looks promising for Hinsdale South. Lavorato added two more lasting memories, closing out her prolific career with a high-arcing 22-footer with 19.1 seconds left to cut the deficit to 43-39 and then tossing an assist to sophomore guard Hailey Goins, who banked in a long 3-pointer with 6.7 ticks left.

With 16.8 seconds left, Lavorato hugged Flowers while the post player exited the court after fouling out.

Diedrich, a point guard, thrived at state, showcasing a shifty driving game while being adept with both hands. Her blinding speed, along with the penetration and athleticism of Goins, will form a dangerous backcourt for the next two years.

Sophomore forward Maeve Savage, a two-time all-conference performer, is a do-it-all player with loads of potential with her high level of athleticism, defensive skills and court IQ. Six-foot junior forward Marit Halie, sophomore guard Anna Wilcox and sophomore guard/forward Sloane Kiefer all provided glimpses of their potential against the Broncos.

“This is like a dream,” Savage said. “I never would have thought about state. I always thought it was more of a dream than a reality. As we got closer to the end of the season, I realized we are really good and we started to grow more.

“This whole experience has been totally crazy. The community has been really loud and supportive. I’m never going to forget this experience. I’m so excited for the future. I see all of our potential. Our team is so young. We will miss our seniors, but we have so much potential and it’s super exciting to look forward to the future.”

Bob Narang

Bob Narang is a contributing sports reporter to Shaw Local News Network