Impending mid-term exams, mid-season fatigue, or the upcoming showdown with defending state champ Bolingbrook may have played a role in the Fenwick girls basketball team’s slow start against Nazareth on Saturday afternoon in Oak Park. Whatever it was it didn’t last long as the No. 1-ranked Friars eventually thumped their East Suburban Catholic Conference foe 72-37 to stay perfect on the season with 17 straight victories, including four in conference.

Nazareth’s Julie Shiffler (game-high 16 points) put her team up 20-15 with a three-pointer to start the second quarter, but Fenwick seemed to awaken from the sound of the net’s swish. Led by senior guard Erin Power, the Friars outscored the outsized Roadrunners 19-10 before halftime. Power scored eight points in the first half, while 6-foot-3-inch senior Devereaux Peters blocked four shots and pocketed two steals. Fenwick took a 36-25 lead at halftime and never looked back.

“The girls have a lot of things on their minds right now,” said Fenwick head coach Dave Power. “They’ve got exams this week, so they didn’t come out with a lot of fire. But I think our defense was the main factor as it has been the entire season.”

Nazareth didn’t score a field goal the entire second half, with all of the team’s remaining points coming by way of free throws. Nuzzo kept the Friars on track by scoring seven of her team-high 12 points in the final two periods. Power and senior guard Holly Harvey both finished with 11 points for Fenwick, who blasted Sandburg 65-27 on Thursday night.

The Friars have three practices to gear up for the much-anticipated game against Bolingbrook (14-1) at the 17th Annual McDonald’s Shootout on Saturday (7 p.m.) to be held at Willowbrook High School. The Friars will go up against their former teammate in Samantha Woods, who transferred to Bolingbrook before her junior year and helped lead the Raiders to a 45-34 victory over Belleville (Althoff) in the state title game. The 6-foot-3-inch Woods was an original member of Fenwick’s freshmen “Fab-four” during the 2003-04 season when the Friars won over 30 games and made it as far as the state semifinals. As a sophomore, Woods helped lead the Friars to the state quarterfinals.

“It’s going to be quite an interesting game due to the fact that we have not played each other since [Samantha] transferred,” said Erin Power, who also played alongside Woods for four years prior to entering high school. “It will be an intense game, but at the same time it’ll be fun. There are no hard feelings. She’s a good friend. We just need to go in to Willowbrook and play our game.”

Fenwick’s smothering defense will need to clamp down on not only Woods (13 points per game) but 5-11 guard Miranda Tate and the Michigan State-bound Brittney Thomas. Both Woods and Tate were instrumental in handing Fenwick’s rival Trinity a 70-40 thrashing back in early December. The duo combined for 40 points in that win.

“[Bolingbrook] could easily be the No. 1-ranked team in the state right now, so at least we’ll know who the No. 1 team is after Saturday, at least for the day,” said Dave Power. “Right now Bolingbrook has all our attention and our respect. It’ll be our biggest test of the season thus far, that’s for sure.”

Fenwick takes on St. Joseph (South Bend, Ind.) on Monday (2:30 p.m.) in the second part of the tournament.

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...