Winnetka, Sports

Trevians rise up in final quarter to oust Ramblers, advance to sectional title game on Friday

Playoff basketball. A rivalry victory. And a clear path to the basket.

It was all right in front of Will Leemaster for a moment that usually only plays out in daydreams.

“It was nuts. I have never dunked in-game, except for summer league,” the New Trier senior said. “Even though it didn’t count, to top it off like that, against a rival, it’s insane — a surreal feeling.”

Leemaster’s breakaway tomahawk slam happened microseconds after the final buzzer, but that did not dull the theatrics. The slam sent the New Trier bench and crowd into a frenzy to celebrate the Trevians’ 36-32 sectional-semifinal win against Loyola Academy, the sectional’s top seed, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Maine South High School.

Leemaster had earned the epic finish. The senior racked up a series of big plays in the final quarter, including a three-point play that gave his team its first advantage since the second quarter. Two plays later, his defensive deflection forced a pivotal Ramblers’ turnover and he altered Loyola’s final shot.

The Trevians Ian Brown (left) and Ramblers Miles Boland fight for the loose ball in the sectional matchup.

“There’s only one ball and only one hoop,” said Leemaster, a team captain who is not typically a harbinger of big point totals. “The guys who aren’t scoring can always do something in support and to effect winning. That is what coach tells me. I can have zero points and effect winning.”

Leemaster and the Trevians’ fourth-quarter effort completed a comeback that saw them down six points, 21-15, at halftime. New Trier, specifically junior Colby Smith, salted the game away at the free-throw line. After missing his first two freebies, Smith sank five of his final six and finished with a team-high 12 points.

Logan Feller added 10, Leemaster 6 and Brown 5, including a key fourth-quarter triple.

In a repeat matchup from 2023, New Trier will battle Glenbrook North, which bested Glenbrook South Tuesday night, for the sectional championship at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 1, at Maine South. The Trevians knocked off the Spartans in the final seconds of last year’s sectional finale, and the teams split their season series (1-1) this year.

Like most of the game Tuesday, the Ramblers could not find quality shots down the stretch. Loyola coach Tom Livatino took a lot of the responsibility for his team’s lack of offensive execution and credited New Trier for its fierce defensive effort.

Logan Feller gets to the basket for a lay-in for New Trier.

“They are just really physical,” he said of the Trevians. ” … And they pose a problem for us. Switching man (defense) takes away the flow of your offense and it makes you have to do some isolation stuff, which isn’t our thing.

“I credit them more than whatever we didn’t execute. They’re tough.”

A slow first quarter ended with a 6-4 New Trier advantage, but Loyola came alive in the second quarter. Junior Donovan Robinson provided a major lift off the bench. His three buckets helped the Ramblers tally 17 in the quarter and take a six-point halftime lead.

New Trier closed the gap in the third quarter, getting three-pointers from Smith and Feller, and then finished off the Ramblers in the end.

Loyola ends its special season with 27 victories, the third most in program history. The Ramblers were also a regional champion, won their winter-break tournament in Florida and topped St. Ignatius to win the Jesuit Cup.

In 2020, the Ramblers looked poise to compete for a state championship. At 30-4, they set a program record for wins and were the sectional’s top seed. They were about to play in the sectional championship when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the IHSA tournament.

Since, players like Miles Boland, Jimmy Tarjan and Andrew Hollerich have helped build Loyola back up to a contender once again.

“I am super proud of our team,” Livatino said. “We were at the mountaintop of high school basketball in 2020, then we slid down a bit, and last year we started to come back up to the mountain and these guys had a lot to do with it. We took a way bigger step this year.

“This is not how we wanted to finish by any stretch but I’m really proud of our guys. There are a lot of positive things.”

Senior Miles Boland wins a race to the rim for the Ramblers.

Boland led the Ramblers with 12 points Tuesday, while Robinson finished with 8 and Hollerich 6. Brendan Loftus grabbed 6 rebounds.

A three-year varsity starter, Boland established himself as one of the best two-way players in the area by his senior season and thanked the Loyola basketball program.

“Loyola basketball is great. It’s probably the best thing that’s happened to me yet in my life,” he said. “I love this team, the guys, the coaches are the best thing ever. It means the world to me.” 

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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