Bloom coach Ron Newquist gets around quite a bit in the Chicago Heights area.
He loves it. He’s lived it his entire life.
He’s pretty sure his Blazing Trojans won’t be lacking for supporters when they face off against Marian Catholic in the first of two neighborhood battles Tuesday in the Class 4A Mother McAuley Sectional semifinals.
“From the guys I hang out with in the cigar shop to my friends on Facebook to the people at the restaurants in the community, they’re all saying, ‘We’re behind you. We’re behind you,’ ” Newquist said. “But Marian has their Nation and their family as well.”
This time, it might be the first time the two teams have been as close in talent as they are in proximity.
“Bloom girls basketball has never really been relevant,” Newquist said. “If Marian played Bloom they killed them and that was that. But the landscape has changed a little bit. We’re respectable now, and that makes it interesting.”
More than respectable, to the foes in the Southland Athletic Conference, of which the Blazing Trojans made a clean sweep, and to the field at the Hillcrest Holiday Classic, also of which Bloom conquered.
The Bria Gaines-led Blazing Trojans (21-6) went 2-0 in the Lincoln-Way East Regional, holding Sandburg and the host Griffins to a combined 58 points. Gaines, befitting her average, had a double-double of points and rebounds in both games.
“Gaines it a tough kid inside,” Marian coach Annie Byrne said. “She has good footwork, and is tough with her back to the basket. That will be our main concern.”
Marian Catholic (28-1) represents a different level of challenge for Bloom.
The Spartans, led by Teniya Page, Ashton Millender and Megan Walsh, have won 15 games in a row since their loss to Rolling Meadows in December. They culminated an almost perfect regular season with a stunning rout of East Suburban Catholic Conference rival Fenwick.
They’re deep, fast and have quick hands on defense.
“We stay to stay out of foul trouble, No. 1,” Newquist said. “We’re not very deep and they’re deep. We have to play good defense and rebound the boards. We need to slow down their transitions, and we can’t give them second and third chances. On offense, we have to take care of the ball.
“We’ve got a big task ahead of us Tuesday, but one thing about my kids is they have no fear. They’re like, ‘OK, we’re playing Marian. Big deal.’ The great thing about my girls is they just go out there and play, man. We’ll see what happens.”
The neighborhood battle between Mother McAuley (22-6) and Marist (22-9) is a rematch of a Jan. 8 meeting in which Alyssa Siwek scored 37 points in a 79-67 Mighty Macs victory.
The RedHawks were in the middle of a difficult stretch in which they lost five of six games. Since then they have gained the services of Claire Ryan (back from a knee injury) and have been getting consistent offense from JeTaun Rouse and Leah Bolton, and solid work on the boards from Brooke Wyderski.
“Everything seems to be coming together,” Marist coach Mary Pat Connolly said. “The last half of the season other people in our lineup besides JeTaun and Leah are putting up significant numbers as well. And we’ve played almost every conceivable match-up possible, so we’re battle-tested.
“Marist is a very talented team. Lizzy Nye and Alyssa Siwek are two very talented, smart and great shooting guards. And (Bridget) Bilek and (Kristen) Kleist can shoot the three, which makes them a very dangerous team.
“We’re looking forward to a great game.”