CHICAGO – It wasn’t the way Jim Martin wanted to go out as Lincoln-Way East’s girls basketball coach.
In his wilder dreams, he likely envisioned watching his Griffins hold the Class 4A championship trophy over their heads. Or perhaps another bauble.
Instead, East’s season, and Martin’s career, concluded with a 67-43 defeat at the hands of host Mother McAuley in the Mighty Macs’ 130-decibel gym on Thursday night.
The Griffins (28-5), while frustrated by McAuley’s scintillating shooting – 50 percent overall and from 3-point range – gave their all. And it wasn’t enough.
“We just lost them,” Martin said of the quest to shut down McAuley’s aces. “They hit some shots in transition, and you can’t do that.
“You can’t give up 67. I was hoping for a 43-40 game.”
The Macs (26-7) were led by gunners Tara O’Malley (19 points) and Jenna Badali (18), but the key to the outcome might have been Grace Hynes, who, while 5-foot-9 and listed as a guard/forward, played the middle and frustrated the Griffins defensively time and again. She scored 16 points and collected 10 rebounds.
“She’s a flat-out player, not just a shooter,” Macs coach Ashley Clanton said. “She can get to the basket, and defensively she makes plays all over.”
“We couldn’t let the foot off the pedal,” Hynes said.
“She battled with Lauren [Hunter] all night, and we got a little frustrated,” Martin said. “I thought we were prepared, but they outplayed us.”
McAuley burst to an 18-7 lead after a quarter on the strength of four 3-pointers, and applied a defensive vise in the second quarter to hold a 32-19 halftime lead. It was a 1-2-2, sort of, that cramped the Griffins’ offensive style.
“It kind of slowed them up, made them hesitant a little bit more,” Badali said. “They attack more, so we thought if we clogged the middle they won’t be able to score as much. It worked for us.”
It did, Griffins senior Carolyn Waleski admitted.
“It definitely shut down our shooters,” Waleski said. “It gave us a lot of good opportunities to drive to the basket, but we didn’t finish on a lot of them. They hit their shots lights out, so hats off to them for that.”
Waleski led the Griffins with 10 points, but fouled out with 7:49 to play.
“I get so riled up with adrenaline that can end up hurting me and get me into foul trouble,” Waleski said.
Her 3-pointer cut the deficit to 32-25 with 5:38 left in the third quarter, but Badali answered with a pair of driving layups and a 3-pointer in the next 100 seconds, and that all but settled matters.
By then, deafness had set in among some in the crowd, thanks to the Macs’ irrepressible student section. They raised the roof all night.
“I wouldn’t want anything different,” Martin said. “This is what high school basketball is, and to see it for the girls, I’m so happy.”
The Mighty Macs, with their first sectional title in 15 years, earn the right to play Edwardsville (29-0), a 48-44 overtime victor over Rock Island, in Monday’s supersectional game at Illinois Wesleyan.