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Geneva girls basketball nearly rallies past Montini

LOMBARD – Considering the adjustments the Geneva girls basketball team has had to make in the wake of losing talented starting point guard Michaela Loebel for the season with a knee injury, the Vikings’ performance in a 58-55 loss to undefeated Montini Saturday evening on the Broncos’ home court was about as impressive as a losing effort can be.

Rallying valiantly from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit, Geneva (7-4) had the ball with 11 seconds left and a chance to take the lead. The Vikings got the ball quickly inside to sophomore Abby Novak. To prevent an uncontested layup, Montini junior guard Sara Ross spun Novak with what appeared to be a bumpy technique, but no foul was called.

“She got tackled, absolutely,” Geneva coach Sarah Meadows said. “It’s really frustrating when you work that hard to get back and it’s just a blown call at the end.”

Novak lost control of the ball and it wound up in the hands of Montini junior Kelly Karlis (12 points), who was fouled with two seconds remaining and made a pair of free throws to put the Broncos (9-0) up 57-54.

The Vikings did not even get a chance to inbound the ball as Morgan Seberger was fouled, sending her to the line for a one-and-one free throw opportunity. Seberger made the first free throw and missed the second intentionally, but the ball failed to hit the rim, giving the ball back to Montini. Bronco sophomore Kelsey Bogdan made the first of two free throws with 0.9 seconds on the clock and a desperation heave by Geneva junior Sidney Santos off the rebound of the missed second free throw fell short of the basket.

The 6-foot Santos, normally a post player, was playing point guard Saturday.

“We’re asking her to play one and she did fantastic,” Meadows said. “It was all about controlling the tempo, really, this game, because we did not want to get into a running back-and-forth with them, so Sidney did an excellent job on that.”

Moving Santos to a guard spot allows Meadows to use her in the game at the same time as Novak and 6-0 senior post Sami Pawlak, who played superbly, scoring 20 points and grabbing a dozen rebounds.

“Pawlak killed us on the glass,” Montini coach Jason Nichols said. “We knew she would if we didn’t box her out, and we didn’t. … They scored a lot of their points off second and third-chance opportunities, not the initial shot. The best offense they had was shoot, miss, go get the ball.”

Actually, most of Pawlak’s points came on her initial shot, including a nice spin move after she came up with a steal that gave the Vikings an early 9-5 lead. She was effective in both the low and high post, both shooting and dishing the ball to teammates for good shots. Pawlak had seven of Geneva’s first nine points and her early success forced Montini to switch from a man-to-man defense to a zone that collapsed on her every time she got the ball.

“It was a little harder to put up shots,” Pawlak said. “We play well as a team and we move the ball very well. That’s one of the things that I think is one of our strongest aspects.”

The focus by the Broncos on interior defense left the outside a bit more open and Seberger took advantage, heating up in the second quarter with a trio of three-pointers. The last one gave the Vikings a 32-25 lead 1:30 remaining before the half. But Montini scored the last eight points of the half, including six in the final 17 seconds, then tallied the first eight points of the third quarter to go up 43-32.

Geneva still was down 11 with five minutes left in the game when Santos connected on a three from the right wing to begin a determined comeback effort.

“These kids are going to fight no matter what,” Meadows said. “That’s just the heart they have. … They know a lot of these kids. It’s a big game for them. They play AAU together. And they’re playing one of the best teams in the state, so they get excited for that no matter what.”

A short jumper by Pawlak in the paint cut the deficit to four with just under two minutes to play and Seberger (15 points) hit another three with 31 seconds left to pull the Vikings within one.

“Automatically, Montini is kind of like a rivalry school, just like all the schools around us,” Pawlak said. “We’ve played with their coaches. We’ve played with their girls. We’ve played against them. We knew how they played; they knew how we played. This is one of the most fun and hard games of the year for us.”

Montini’s 6-4 senior center Malayna Johnson scored 15 points, but the Vikings kept her off the scoreboard for the final 7:30 of the game.

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