IHSA Class 3A Lakes Girls Regional: Cary-Grove stymies Lake Forest in second half for championship

Trojans’ switch to 2-3 zone defense is key in first regional title since 2018

Cary-Grove's 2024 Class 3A Lakes Regional championship team.

LAKE VILLA – Cary-Grove’s 2-3 zone defense frustrated Lake Forest more and more with each third-quarter possession.

The Scouts struggled to get quality shots or committed turnovers, while C-G kept stretching its lead.

“We knew who their shooters were, so we really watched them,” Trojans forward Sam Skerl said. “We really helped on defense and made sure no one was getting through, so it really helped. We played with all of our hearts. Our defense was really the game changer. We didn’t let them do anything.”

C-G, which played mostly man-to-man defense in the first half, grabbed control of the game with the defensive switch. The Trojans held Lake Forest to 10 second-half points on their way to a 47-33 victory in the Class 3A Lakes Regional championship Thursday night.

C-G (20-11) advances to the Antioch Sectional and will play the Wheaton Academy Regional champion at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Wauconda and St. Viator play for that title at 7 p.m. Friday.

“We felt like we’re a second-half team, and we also felt like if we went into a 2-3 zone, we saw some things at the end of the first half that they didn’t adjust to,” Trojans coach Tony Moretti said. “We felt we had a good opportunity with the 2-3 zone to shut them down.

“They listened to us and took coaching. Our goal was to not let their shooters beat us. We kind of extended out on one side of the zone and packed it in on the other. The girls took coaching like they have done all year.”

The title is the Trojans’ first since 2018, and they did it with one senior, Emily Larry, in the starting lineup.

Sophomore Kennedy Manning had a huge first half with five 3-pointers on 5-of-8 shooting.

“They were creating space for me because we’re such a good all-around team that the defenders don’t know where to go,” Manning said. “No matter what, someone’s going to have an ‘on’ night, and I guess it was just the night for me.”

Lake Forest (15-16) led 21-16 with 3:30 remaining in the second quarter, but Manning nailed three 3s in the last 3:10 of the half to give C-G a 26-23 halftime lead.

Manning suffered a jammed pinkie on her left (nonshooting) hand late in the half, but hit her last 3 right after that play.

“She’s coming on and growing every single day,” Moretti said. “Big players play in big moments, and Kennedy’s a big player.”

Skerl picked up the scoring in the third quarter with a rebound basket, a 3-pointer and 6-of-6 free-throw shooting for 11 points.

“After making a shot, it helped my confidence,” she said. “Everyone else got me the ball, and we worked it around.”

C-G held the Scouts to 18.2% field-goal shooting in the second half. Charlie Axus scored 16 points to lead Lake Forest, and Sarah Constantine added seven.

“They fell back into their zone, which we have struggled with,” Scouts coach Stacey Leach said. “We just don’t have the size to compete with them. They have great size, and they’re a great team. That zone just slowed us down too much to the point where we couldn’t get anything going offensively.

“I’m proud of my kids. They battled; they did an awesome job this year. Good luck to Cary-Grove. They’re a great team.”

Ellie Mjaanes scored seven, while Malaina Kurth and Larry each added six for C-G.

Moretti opted to switch at halftime after seeing glimpses of the zone’s effectiveness in the first half.

“On film, they shot the heck out of the ball,” he said. “We kind of felt like we had an advantage if we could extend them out a little bit.”

C-G forced 12 turnovers in the second half.

“We knew they’re a very good team, but sometimes they didn’t do as well in the second half,” Manning said. “We came out in a 2-3 zone. We packed it in because, for some teams, we go too high up and they go around us. We packed it in, and they couldn’t drive or get it in the high post.”

Class 3A Lakes Regional Championship
Cary-Grove 47, Lake Forest 33
Constantine 3 0-0 7, Richards 1 0-0 2, Rocklein 0 0-0 0, Rice 2 0-0 4, Axus 7 0-0 16, Hvostik 1 2-2 4, Acello 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 2-2 33.
Manning 5 0-1 15, Kurth 0 6-8 6, Skerl 2 6-6 11, Larry 2 0-0 6, Mjaanes 3 1-2 7, Haslow 0 0-0 0, Nielsen 1 0-2 2. Totals: 13 13-20 47.
Lake Forest 10 13 7 3 – 33
Cary-Grove 11 15 11 10 – 47
3-point goals: Lake Forest 3 (Axus 2, Constantine), Cary-Grove 8 (Manning 5, Larry 2, Skerl). Total fouls: Lake Forest 18, Cary-Grove 6.