VILLA PARK – The annual McDonald’s Shootout at Willowbrook High School is one of the premier girls basketball showcases in the Chicago area, but at times Saturday Geneva didn’t look like it was particularly interested in playing in it.
The effort by the Vikings (12-9) in a 68-58 loss to Romeoville did not please coach Sarah Meadows.
“That team’s good,” Meadows said. “I don’t think they’re 10 points better than us. … We’ve got to show up and play games. We can’t just show up and be content.”
Junior point guard Sidney Santos agreed that the Vikings didn’t play hard the entire game.
“It wasn’t just a couple of people,” she said. “It was all of us. We all were making stupid turnovers, dumb passes, wrong decisions.”
Geneva was guilty of 25 turnovers, many of them unforced.
The Spartans (19-3) played a zone that collapsed tightly around Geneva senior post Sami Pawlak every time she got the ball. They limited her to 10 points while basically daring the Vikings to shoot the ball from outside.
Initially, it looked like Geneva might force Romeoville to abandon that plan, as Morgan Seberger hit a 3-pointer just moments into the game and Santos added another midway through the first quarter to put the Vikings up 13-5. But the Spartans got some easy baskets by breaking Geneva’s full-court press and a pair of steals and layups by Abigail Smith (22 points) to take the lead late in the quarter with an 11-0 run.
The score was tied at 24 halfway through the second quarter when Romeoville went on another run, scoring seven straight points. Then, 2:11 before halftime, Santos crumpled to the floor at the east end of the court in obvious pain, in a scene that was eerily similar to the way her sister Ashley’s high school career came to an end last year in this event with a torn ACL. Sidney said that memory didn’t cross her mind.
“Not until my mom walked over like joking around, clearly,” Santos said. “She was like, ‘We can’t come back here. You got hurt at the same end at the exact same time Ashley did.’ Oh my gosh.”
The Santos clan could joke about Sidney’s injury because it turned out to be a left ankle sprain, something she has dealt with in the past.
“I’ve sprained my ankle a lot,” she said. “I know that it hurts at first, but once you get it warmed up and moving, you don’t really think about it.”
Santos was able to return to the game late in the third quarter, but by that time the Spartans had turned a 35-28 halftime advantage into a comfortable 49-36 lead.
The Vikings trailed by 15 with five minutes left in the game before finally dialing up the intensity to make a last-ditch comeback attempt. Kelly Gordon helped the effort by hitting a trey from the left wing with 3:40 remaining. The 5-9 senior finished with 12 points and eight rebounds.
“Kelly Gordon’s a workhorse,” Meadows said. “She really is. She’s not a dominant player. She’s not going to take over the game, but she’s going to do every little small thing that’s really hard work. She’s going to work hard for you every time she’s on the court.”
Santos finished with 22 points, hitting another 3 and then a pair of free throws with 33 seconds left to cut the deficit to 65-58, but, fittingly, a turnover ended the comeback effort and Kiera Currie (25 points) hit a pair of free throws with 20 seconds left to account for the final score.
Sophomore Abby Novak added 10 points for the Vikings, who were coming off Friday night's emotional overtime conference victory against St. Charles East.
“I’m not using the excuse of a back-to-back game,” Meadows said. “[Romeoville] had a back-to-back game, too.”