Marian snuffs out Young’s repeat bid

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NORMAL, Ill. — It wasn’t a step that Marian Catholic took toward its first girls basketball state title Friday night.

It was a stomp.

Who could have seen it coming?

“I don’t know. I kinda did. I was pretty excited for this game,” senior Megan Walsh said after the No. 3 Spartans crushed No. 2 Young 63-39 to earn a date in Saturday night’s Class 4A state title game with Rolling Meadows.

Junior Ashton Millender wielded the offensive hammer, putting in 29 points. Melanie Ransom added eight points, Teniya Page had seven points and Walsh six points to go along with 15 rebounds as Marian improved to 32-1.

Millender was also the main defender against Young star Linnae Harper, who scored nine points, but only three when it could have mattered. Taylor Brame added nine points for the Dolphins (27-4).

The night didn’t start out so auspiciously for the Spartans, who hit just one of their first eight shots from the field. Then Millender took over.

The junior guard scored her first points of the night on a fast-break layup to put Marian in front 5-2. In rapid-fire order, she followed with a running bank in, a three-point swish on a pass from Page, and another running bank-in.

“I just knew I had to keep shooting,” Millender said. “But one person doesn’t win a basketball game. It was fun out there. ”

On the defensive end, the Spartans made life miserable for Young in the paint. Harper, the focus of Marian’s attention, was 0-for-3 in the first quarter, 3-of-19 for the game.

“I thought Ashton played phenomenal defense on her,” Byrne said. “She did a great job of keeping her in front of her, containing her, staying low instead of falling for things.”

At the end of the one period it was 13-4, and Millender was far from through.

She jump-started the Spartans at the start of the second period with a three-point basket on a pass from Kauai Bradley. Harper finally got her first bucket for Young with 5:10 remaining in the half on a lean-in three to get the Dolphins back within nine, but it was the last time they would stay within single digits.

The halftime stats pretty much said it all: Marian with 29 points on 11-of-23 shooting, Young with 12 on 4-of-21 shooting.

“We were horrible from the beginning,” Young coach Corry Irvin said. “We didn’t do the stuff we planned to do. There were some calls that I thought (stunk). I think it got into our heads. From there we never really got it together.”

The Spartans never let off the gas. Millender had 10 points and Page six in a third quarter that ended with Marian in front 49-26. Near the end of the period, Young was called for three technical fouls, two on players and one on Irvin.

“A lot of things went well,” Marian coach Annie Byrne said. “We definitely beat them on the battle of the boards (43-33), and that’s something we had talked about.

“Defense is something we try to hang our hats on a little bit. I mean, the kids obviously put the ball in the basket, but you’ve got to play defense first.”

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