Girls Basketball: Nazareth continues to raise the bar, rides tough defense past Willowbrook

Nazareth's Danielle Scully drives to the basket during the girls varsity basketball game between Willowbrook High School and Nazareth Academy on Thursday, January 13, 2022 in La Grange Park, IL.

LA GRANGE PARK – With three sophomores in the starting lineup, the future is exceptionally bright for the Nazareth girls basketball program.

As it turns out, so is the present.

Continuing to raise the bar despite their youth, the Roadrunners won their 13th game in a row with a hard-fought 51-37 non-conference victory over Willowbrook Thursday before a big crowd in La Grange Park.

Both teams entered play with matching records of 16-1 and each had reached that mark in dominant fashion with a combined 30 wins by double digits.

“I think our defense and our toughness was the difference,” said sophomore Danielle Scully, who led Nazareth with 13 points. “It’s a lot of fun coming in here and playing in this atmosphere. We didn’t get to experience that last year with COVID.

“Definitely our preparation for games has been the key (during the winning streak). Coach does a great job of having us prepared for each game.”

The Roadrunners’ zone defense, coupled with their length, gave the Warriors trouble. Primarily a perimeter-oriented team, Willowbrook was held to 1-of-14 shooting from beyond the 3-point arc.

“We did a good job defensively,” Willowbrook head coach Terry Harrell said. “We were a little quicker than them. But what got us, they were a little longer than us. It was tough to get our jumpers off and we are a jump-shooting team. So we had to try to jam it inside.

“We just didn’t get it going offensively. We played good defense but sometime in there you have to score. They kept us under 40 and we are used to scoring 65. They are kind of upset they didn’t play better but it’s not that we didn’t play well, we just didn’t get the shots we normally do.”

Nazareth led 14-8 after the opening eight minutes and extended that margin to 24-16 by halftime as Scully and Gracie Carstensen both hit three-pointers in the second quarter. A pair of third quarter baskets by Olivia Austin helped push the advantage to 36-25 heading into the fourth. Austin also checked into double figures with 12 points to go along with seven rebounds and two steals.

The home team tallied 11 offensive rebounds.

“We really did our best to get to the boards, especially on the offensive end,” Austin said. “That really helped, we weren’t one and done.

“Obviously we are young but our team chemistry and work ethic is outstanding. So I wouldn’t say we are surprised with how well we are playing. We’ve worked hard all season to push past our expectations.”

Carstensen added nine points, nine rebounds and three steals and Amalia Dray had seven points. Caroline Workman contributed five points and six rebounds while Mary Bridget Wilson, another sophomore who comes off the bench, scored five.

“I just love our schedule,” said Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel, whose team has recent victories over Whitney Young and Montini and has games coming up against Marist and Benet. “And with the youth we have, the girls are going to get better and better. We have four sophomores out of our top six kids. We tell them, we don’t want to peak in January, we want to peak in March.”

Willowbrook, which is a perfect 8-0 in the West Suburban Gold conference and heading towards its third league title in the past four seasons, was topped by the 15 points of sophomore Calli Kenny, who also had 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Sophie Sullivan had nine points, Elle Bruschuk totaled six points and 11 rebounds and Hannah Kenny posted six points and three steals.