4A girls basketball: Lincoln-Way East slowly watches hopes slip away

Top-seeded Homewood-Flossmoor moves on

Lincoln-Way East’s Lana Kerley looks to pass against Homewood-Flossmoor in the Class 4A Joliet West Sectional championship on Thursday, Feb. 22nd in Joliet.

JOLIET – There was a moment in Thursday’s sectional championship game that seemed to epitomize the evening for the Lincoln-Way East girls basketball team.

With the Griffins trailing by two points early in the second quarter, Eva Dilger had an open look from the left corner. The shot by the senior forward seemed halfway down, but then spun around the rim. The ball bounced up and hung on the rim for a moment before falling off.

That summed up everything for the Griffins, who were a bit off on key plays all night.

The result was Homewood-Flossmoor emerging with a 47-36 victory in the title game of the Class 4A Joliet West Sectional.

The Vikings (23-7), who have won 14 of 15, will face Nazareth Academy, a 50-37 winner over Kenwood in the Mother McAuley Sectional, at 7 p.m. Monday in the Hinsdale Central Supersectional.

Lincoln-Way East’s Lilly Dockemeyer battles to the paint against Homewood-Flossmoor’s Jaeda Murphy in the Class 4A Joliet West Sectional championship on Thursday, Feb. 22nd in Joliet.

“We had a lot of great shots and good looks,” Lincoln-Way East senior center Hayven Smith said. “But things just didn’t fall our way.”

No, they didn’t. Especially on the rebounding end. The smaller Vikings had a 30-19 rebounding edge in the game and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds.

“My little 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8 girls went to to the glass against their 5-11 and 6-foot-6 girls,” H-F coach Tony Smith said. “They wanted it and had heart and guts.”

Senior guard Jaeda Murphy, who stands 5-6, led H-F with 22 points. Sophomore guards Jenesis Moore (10 points), who is 5-5, and Aunyai (9 points, 8 rebounds), who is 5-8, also made big contributions for the Vikings.

Smith, who will continue her career at the University of Illinois, had 14 points and eight rebounds to lead Lincoln-Way East (28-6). Senior swing players Lilly Dockemeyer (eight points) and Maddie Yacobozzi (six points) along with senior point guard Makayla Kelly (four points) and senior forward Lana Kerley (four points) rounded out the Griffins’ scoring.

“They are younger, smaller and very aggressive,” Kelly said of the Vikings. “We needed to get more boards, and we didn’t.”

H-F looked to have the game in hand, ahead 32-15 in the third and 40-24 after three. But the Griffins weren’t going down without a battle. Dockemeyer hit a 3-pointer, Smith converted a three-point play, Yacobozzi made a layup, and Smith scored on an inside spin move in the lane to cap a 10-0 run and make it 40-34 with 4:29 to play in the game.

“We gave 100 percent,” Smith said. “Every girl on the team gave it their all.”

Lincoln-Way East’s Hayven Smith puts up a shot against Homewood-Flossmoor in the Class 4A Joliet West Sectional championship on Thursday, Feb. 22nd in Joliet.

They did, but the Griffins missed a 3-point opportunity that would have cut it to three, and H-F scored three straight points. Kerley scored her only basket of the game with 1:47 left to draw the Griffins within 43-36. But the Vikings maintained possession and hit 4 of 6 free throws in the final 1:04 to clinch their first sectional title since 2020.

“We prepared really well for their full-court press,” Lincoln-Way East coach Jim Nair said. “But we didn’t rebound well. It’s tough to come back, but I’m proud of the girls for getting us back in the game.”

Things started well for Lincoln-Way East as Kelly scored on a layup 11 seconds into the game. Trailing 3-2, the Griffins scored the next six points, four by Smith, and led 8-3 with 2:34 left in the quarter.

But it was 8-7 after the first quarter. Senior guard Layla Pierce hit a 3-pointer to open the second quarter and give the Vikings the lead for good. Dilger’s shot spun out, and H-F later closed the quarter on a 9-0 run for a 24-12 halftime lead.

“Eva has been awesome coming off the bench for us the last few games,” Nair said of Dilger. “It was good to see her back to playing after being injured last season.

“A lot of people were pulling for our girls. They’re just great to be around, and it’s sad that I won’t see them in practice this next week.”

Still, the Griffins tied the school record set by the 2018 team for most wins in a season. They had no seniors on the 2022-23 team, so they knew this would be a special season, and it was.

“I love this group,” Smith said. “For some of us, it was four years of being together, and that was bigger than basketball.”