Montini grinds out win in 3A title game

NORMAL, Ill. -- Montini coach Jason Nichols was floored by his own team’s stats following the Class 3A state championship on Saturday.

The third-ranked Broncos committed 24 turnovers, missed 15 layups and shot 36 percent from the field. But they still defeated No. 5 Hillcrest 67-45 to win their second consecutive Class 3A state title at Illinois State’s Redbird Arena.

“Wow,” Nichols responded.

It’s safe to say Saturday’s victory will not be remembered for Montini’s offensive brilliance.

This one was won by the Broncos’ defense.

A game after holding Springfield scoreless in the opening quarter of the state semifinals, Montini (36-1) came close to repeating the feat against the high-scoring Hawks. Hillcrest had entered the contest averaging 78 points a game, but over the game’s first 5:29, it missed 10 shots, committed five turnovers and scored no points.

“I thought we did a great job defensively,” Nichols said. “Let’s be honest, that’s a 79-point average team when they came into the state tournament, and we had them sitting at 35 when we pulled our five [starters.] That to me was the big thing – our defense tonight.”

Montini wasn’t scoring with ease during the same time period, but it was occasionally finding the bottom of the net. The Broncos built an 11-0 advantage before Hillcrest scored its first bucket with 2:31 left in the opening quarter.

The Hawks wouldn’t get closer than seven points the rest of the way.

“We came out and knew it was going to be a tough game,” said Montini’s Kiki Wilson, who scored nine points. “They’re better than Springfield, so we had to come out and play harder than we did last game. That’s what we did. We came out and did it again. People didn’t think we could do it.”

Most people considered Montini to be the heavy 3A favorite for the entire season, but the Broncos believed there were some skeptics out there and had played that message up. They especially knew Hillcrest (29-3) was seeking revenge after losing to Montini in last year’s state championship game.

“Hillcrest doubted us because their main player was out of the game last year,” Montini senior Whitney Adams said. “They thought that was one of the main reasons why they lost. A lot of other teams thought they just could beat us. But they don’t know all of the weapons we have.”

Adams’ personal weapon is her 3-point shot. After struggling during the early goings of Saturday’s game, even shooting a handful of air balls, Adams eventually found her range, sank four 3-pointers and scored 16 points. She also added nine rebounds, four assists, three steals and one block.

“In the first half, I shot 3-5 air balls, and I just kept shooting,” Adams said. “Jason just told me to keep shooting, keeping shooting, and I did.”

With Adams and her teammates having their offensive woes during the first half, Notre Dame recruit Whitney Holloway stepped forward. She scored 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first half and helped the Broncos to a 31-15 halftime lead.

“This is amazing,” Holloway said. “To get your first state championship is great, but to get two in a row, that’s just amazing.”

Samira Ali led Hillcrest with 15 points.

• Springfield defeated Marshall 53-43 in the third-place game. Springfield’s Zahna Medley scored a game-high 24 points. Keshawnee Alley’s 18 points and 11 rebounds led Marshall.