Carmel beats Nazareth, wins Class 3A state title

Carmel avenged two earlier losses and beat Nazareth 43-39 Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game at Redbird Arena.

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Carmel players celebrate after winning the Class 3A state title.

Carmel players celebrate after winning the Class 3A state title.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

NORMAL, Ill. — Carmel’s Jordan Wood kept her promise.

As the season wound down, the junior center had some conversations with teammate Grace Sullivan, the only senior in the Corsairs’ lineup.

“Jordan and I talked the last couple of weeks,” Sullivan said. “[She said,] ‘We are going to send you out with a win. We are not going to send you out with a loss.’”

Now Sullivan heads off to play at Bucknell as a state champion after Carmel avenged two earlier losses and beat Nazareth 43-39 Saturday in the Class 3A state championship game at Redbird Arena.

Sullivan led the way with a double-double of 13 points and 13 rebounds. Wood, a 6-5 junior committed to Michigan State, added 12 points and three assists. Mia Gillis had eight points, seven rebounds, and three assists for the Corsairs (28-7), who won a championship in their first trip to state.

“I’m just very proud of these girls,” Carmel coach Ben Berg said. “They changed the program forever. The expectations are sky-high.”

The outside expectations may have been different going into the final. Carmel had lost the teams’ first two meetings this season, both by double digits.

Berg said he didn’t even watch the film of the first game, which came a day after a loss to Class 4A finalist Barrington. He did watch tape of the second loss, a month to the day before the state final.

“We needed to do three things better,” Berg said. “We had to defend better. We had to take care of the ball better. We had to rebound the ball better.”

Check, check and check.

Nazareth (33-3) missed 12 of its first 13 shots and managed just two points in the game’s first 10:51. After turning the ball over more than 20 times in each of the first two meetings, the Corsairs had just 12 on Saturday. And they controlled the boards by a 28-14 margin.

That didn’t surprise Berg.

“We had some struggles at the middle part of the season,” he said. “We’ve gotten better and better the last four, five weeks.

“I had a good feeling about tonight.”

Carmel’s Jordan Wood, left, and Grace Sullivan carry the Class 3A state championship trophy over to their student section.

Carmel’s Jordan Wood, left, and Grace Sullivan carry the Class 3A state championship trophy over to their student section.

Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

But after Nazareth’s offense finally started clicking in the second quarter, it was a close game the rest of the way.

Down 27-26, Carmel took the lead for good at 31-27 on a 5-0 spurt at the end of the third quarter. Nazareth got within a point three times down the stretch but couldn’t pull ahead.

Sophomore Ashley Schlabowske hit three of four free throws in the final 28 seconds to seal the win.

Gracie Carstensen hit three three-pointers and finished with 11 points to lead Nazareth, which won its third trophy since 2018. The Corsairs were second that year and third in 2019.

“We played hard,” Roadrunners coach Eddie Stritzel said. “I don’t know if we played well, but that had something to do with Carmel.”

With Wood at 6-5 and Sullivan at 6-4, going into the lane isn’t an attractive option for Carmel opponents.

“Their size always bothered us, even when we won,” Stritzel said. “We struggled offensively tonight.”

That forced the Roadrunners to play at a faster pace than usual.

It got them back in the game, but couldn’t prevent Wood from being true to her word and helping Sullivan go out a winner.

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