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JCA heads to regional championship

After defeating the 16-13 St. Francis, 62-58 on Jan. 25, Joliet Catholic Academy (15-17), closed out its 2019-20 regular season with a five-game losing streak.

Playing in what many people consider to be the best girls high school basketball conference in the state, the East Suburban Catholic Conference, the Angels ran through a gauntlet to close out the season.

In a nine day period between Jan. 27 and Feb. 5, the Angels lost to Nazareth Academy (18-12), Marian Catholic (23-7), and the Associated Press' Class 4A No.1-ranked Benet Academy (27-2) in ESCC games.

On Feb. 3, a loss to the Angels' arch-rival and girls Catholic White co-champions from Providence Catholic (22-8) was followed by a loss on Feb. 5, to the Associated Press' Class 4A No.8-ranked Redhawks of Marist (26-4), in ESCC action.

"We had to run through a five-game gauntlet to close out the regular season," JCA coach Jim O'Brien said. "We have survived and now we are ready to roll."

After garnishing the No.1 seed in the IHSA Class 2A Wilmington Sectional Complex, the Angels opened up regional play at Chicago Christian Wednesday night.

As O'Brien stated, the Angels were ready to roll. Taking on the host Knights, (13-19) the Angels rolled to a 57-32 victory.

The Angels were led by their freshman, Jazz Brown, who tallied a game-high 20 points and had four steals on the night.

"This was a great win for us after all those tough losses we had at the end of the season," Brown said. "I am so proud of my team tonight. We never gave up. We jumped out to that 9-0 lead and let them back in. We gave them a little hope and then we blew them out.

"Everything I accomplish, I do for my teammates. I came to JCA for one reason - to help us be a winning program. We all want to play in big games like Friday's regional championship and beyond."

The most recent member of the JCA girls' 1,000 career-point club, senior Mia Bertino, scored 11 points on the night. After starting a little slow, Bertino, found her range and buried three bombs from beyond the arc.

"We all played very well tonight," Bertino said. "Nine scorers tonight really aided our victory. Jazz really draws the opposing defense to her, which allows me to get open looks for my three-point shots. I was a little long on my shots early but I aimed for the front of the rim and was able to knock them down."

Junior Jenna Hernandez, battling foul trouble all night, chipped in with nine points. Hernandez had a pair of steals, dished out two assists and hauled down four rebounds.

Junior Kiana Smith scored six points, grabbing three rebounds and picking up a pair of steals.

"[It was a] great team effort. We all worked hard and it all paid off with the victory," Smith said. I went out tonight and played hard for us."

Off the JCA bench, freshman Alina Schlageter hauled down six rebounds, added an assist and looked like Bertino, burying a long-range three-pointer.

Led by Brown and Smith, the Angels jumped out to a 15-10 lead after one quarter. Bertino scored the first five Angel points of the second quarter to give the JCA a 20-10 lead. Brown scored six consecutive points to put the Angles up 26-12.

JCA took a 28-16 lead into halftime.

Brown's steal and old-fashioned three-point play put the Angels up 37-20 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. With seconds remaining in the third quarter, Bertino buried her third triple of the game for a 42-25 Angel lead after three quarters.

"Mia's big three-pointer right at the end of the third quarter was a huge play for us," O'Brien said.

In the fourth quarter, Schlageter dropped a beautiful assist to Brown for two giving the Angels a 48-30 lead. Late in the quarter, the freshman would buried her Bertino-like, long-range bomb for a 53-32 lead.

"[It was] a tremendous effort for all four quarters. We really played well tonight," O'Brien added. "Jazz was outstanding tonight for us. Jen played well, even with foul trouble and Kiana handled the ball for us well and gets better every game.

"Alina was outstanding off the bench for us tonight. She rebounded, had a great assist and hit the three-pointer for us."

On Friday night at 7, the Angels, will take on Chicago Butler Prep (20-8) for the IHSA Class 2A Chicago Christian Regional championship. Butler defeated Peotone 34-20 in a Chicago Christian Regional Semifinal on Wednesday.


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