Clever phrasing and nuanced analysis aren’t always necessary to recap a sporting event.
“It wasn’t our night. They were the better team, no doubt, and I’m wishing them nothing but luck moving forward,” Loyola Academy coach Tom Livatino said of Rolling Meadows.
The Mustangs featured a stingy defense and composed offense in besting the Ramblers 52-44 in an IHSA Class 4A regional championship Friday, Feb. 23, in Rolling Meadows.
Loyola, on the other hand, was off on both ends of the floor, especially in the first half. The Ramblers turned the ball over five times in the first quarter and allowed a series of offensive rebounds.
“We just don’t look connected, full of juice,” Livatino said. “I don’t know why we looked that way tonight, why we didn’t have a pep in our step. We were lucky to be down seven at half.”
Rolling Meadows size and skill have plenty to do with Loyola’s off night. The Mustangs boast a starting five with an average height of 6 feet 6 inches and all five are at least 6-4 — and one of them is Minnesota recruit Cam Christie.
The Ramblers held Christie (game-high 20 points) to just five field goals, but the 6-6 star added 8-of-9 conversions from the free-throw line.
“We tried to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible, tried to stop him as much as high as we could in the gaps,” Loyola senior Alex Engro said. “I think we did a solid job but he’s a good player. He made shots.”
Loyola, seeded sixth in the sectional, and Rolling Meadows, seeded third, were tied at 8-8 late in the first quarter when the Mustangs Tsvet Sotirov banked in a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give his team the lead, 11-8, and change the tides.
Two Christie treys led an 8-2 Rolling Meadows’ run to start the second quarter, and the Mustangs ended the half with a seven-point advantage, 23-16.
The Ramblers were not done yet. Early in the second quarter, junior Jimmy Tarjan drilled two threes, the second of which pulled Loyola within three points, 26-23.
That, though, was the closest the Ramblers would get, as Tarjan’s buckets were the only ones Loyola made in the third quarter.
In the final quarter, Christie and Rolling Meadows were able to efficiently bust the Ramblers’ pressure, leading to easy baskets and free throws — enough to hold the Ramblers at bay.
“Rolling Meadows is a really good team, and I thought they guarded at a high level tonight,” Livatino said. “That’s what they’ve done all season. That’s a really good team with five really good starters, all can score, they have length. I thought Christie guarded well tonight. They made it hard for us to score.”
The Ramblers got 15 points from junior Miles Boland and another 12 from Tarjan. Sophomore Brendan Loftus grabbed 11 rebounds, while senior Alex Engro finished with 7 points and 5 assists.
Loyola played without one of its leading scorers, junior Andrew Hollerich, who injured his leg in the playoff opener Feb. 22, and Livatino said his presence “would have no doubt helped.”
Loyola Academy ended the season with a 23-10 record and will graduate four senior: starters Engro and Oliver Bishop and Charlie Tierney and PJ Hayes, the latter two of whom scored in the closing minutes of Friday’s loss.
Livatino called it a “very special” group and shared words of praise for two-year starter Alex Engro, who will play for Army next season and with his two charges taken Friday tied the program record for the most in a season (28; Ramar Evans)
“I couldn’t by any prouder to have coached him. I’m blessed to have coached him,” Livatino said. “His parents get it. He gets it. And this dude is going to be a leader at the next level on and off the court. Sky is the limit.”
“The guys on the team, I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Engro said. “This culture, the guys, the coaches, everything around this program is just awesome. We came up a little short tonight, but these friendships I’ll have forever.”
Next season, the Ramblers presumably will return leading scorers Boland and Hollerich, as well as Tarjan and sophomores Loftus and Ryan Fitzgerald, who spent much of Friday night guarding Christie.
“I think we’re prepared for a pretty good season next year,” Boland said. “I don’t like going out like this. I think we could have played better, so we can use that for next year and hopefully it will fuel us to come out differently.”
In another local regional championship, New Trier bested Niles North 68-42, setting up a sectional semifinal matchup with Glenbrook South at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 28, in Northfield.