4A girls basketball: Lincoln-Way Central storms back, claims 3rd straight regional title

LWC rallies from double-digit deficit to eliminate Stagg

Lincoln-Way Central holds up three fingers, representing their 3rd regional title, after their 36-33 win over Stagg in the Class 4A Andrew Regional championship on Friday, Feb. 16th, 2024 in Tinley Park.

TINLEY PARK – It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, according to an old canard.

It’s even harder to win three straight regional titles.

Lincoln-Way Central accomplished both Friday night, coming from 10 points behind in the final 11 minutes, 30 seconds to score a 36-33 victory over Stagg in the Class 4A Andrew Regional championship game.

“I don’t think anyone on the team was mentally down,” said junior Brooke Baechtold, whose points all came on three 3-pointers in the second half that keyed the comeback. “We wanted this regional the third time so bad. We know we have to come back extra strong, do those little things, get the rebound or get the stop.”

“We wanted this regional the third time so bad. We know we have to come back extra strong, do those little things, get the rebound or get the stop.”

—  Brooke Baechtold, L-W Central girls basketball

That they did, improving their record to 19-11.

Stagg (19-13) led 32-29 with three minutes to play when the Knights’ winning rally commenced. Gianna Amadio scored on a drive and made the free-throw, her only points of the night, to tie the game with 2:55 remaining. After a Stagg miss, Lina Panos took Kiya Newson-Cole’s perfect pass for an easy layup and the game’s fourth and final lead change.

Then the Knights’ defense took over. The Chargers’ last basket came with 4:32 to play. With the exception of three free throws by Ameli Sanchez, it was a festival of turnovers for Stagg from that point on.

“It’s heartbreaking in a sense,” said Stagg’s Lizzy Ellsworth, whose 12-point performance led all scorers. “We fought all season long and just didn’t come up on top this time. Sometimes we get lost in the game a little bit.”

After Stagg sophomore Abbey Hobart fouled out with 51.8 seconds left, Eve Tobin came in. She took the last two Chargers shots, 3-pointers that failed to connect.

“She had two good looks,” Stagg coach Bill Turner said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

With the second, the celebration among the Knights and their faithful was on.

The turnaround was swift. The Chargers led 20-10 with 3:30 left in the third quarter.

“We were dead in the water,” Knights coach Dave Campanile said. “We haven’t been a great first-half team all year. Our perseverance … our M.O. is that we might not start out great, but these girls have the belief that they can come back.”

The Knights had beaten Stagg twice in the conference season and knew what to expect. The reverse was true, as well.

“We’ve gambled in that way before,” Campanile said.

Baechtold’s first 3-pointer followed one by Katzmann (seven points) and got things going. Gracen Gehrke also scored seven points for Central.

“Once that first one goes in, I know the rest of them are going to go in,” Baechtold said. “I get such a confidence boost.”

The Knights’ next destination is Joliet West for next week’s all-SouthWest Suburban sectional semifinal. LWC will play Homewood-Flossmoor (21-7), which edged the Knights in their last meeting, at 6 p.m. Tuesday. That will be followed by the Lincoln-Way East vs. Sandburg semifinal about 7:30 p.m.

Lincoln-Way Central’s Kiya Newson-Cole puts up the midrange shot against Stagg in the Class 4A Andrew Regional championship on Friday, Feb. 16th, 2024 in Tinley Park.