There was the obvious reason why the Trinity girls basketball team breezed to the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference Red Division Tournament title.
And then there was Lauren Prochaska.
The final score of Saturday evening’s championship game in River Forest told the obvious story: Trinity 49, Loyola 18.
“Our defense was absolutely special,” Trinity coach Ed Stritzel marveled. “We held a top 15 team to 18 points in a game.”
Loyola (21-7) opened the game by spreading the floor. Trinity (25-1) countered with a man-to-man defense that pressured the ball even far from the basket. That made things difficult for the visitors, who made only two field goals in each of the first three quarters and just one in the fourth. The Ramblers wound up shooting 18 percent (7 for 39) from the field in recording the second-lowest championship-game point total in the 37-year history of the tournament.
Trinity experienced no such trouble on offense thanks in part to an unlikely leading scorer. Prochaska paced the Blazers in points with 13.
“I usually don’t get 13,” Prochaska said with a laugh.
But Prochaska seized an early opportunity when Loyola came out in a zone-man combination designed to slow GCAC Red Division Player of the Year Megan Podkowa.
“It seemed like they were playing back from me, like challenging me to shoot,” Prochaska said. “So I took the challenge.”
Prochaska scored nine points in the first half, including seven of her team’s first nine to stake Trinity to a 9-3 lead. Then the sophomore point guard assisted on three-pointers by Mikayla Leyden and Alyssa Dengler as the Blazers built a 17-5 cushion by the end of the first quarter.
“We knew they were going to come out in some gimmick defense,” Stritzel said. “We thought it would be a box-and-one on Megan. They came out in more like a two-man zone and three-person chasing man. They made a choice that they weren’t going to guard some of our kids, and we felt very good about it. Lauren was just absolutely great.”
By the time Prochaska scored an inside basket inside off an inbounds play early in the second quarter, the home team led 20-5.
“Lauren really stepped up in the beginning, which helped,” Podkowa said. “It got us off to a great start and then everyone just kind of followed her lead.”
Podkowa became ill at game time and suffered through 2-for-11 shooting en route to seven points and team-highs of 12 rebounds, four steals and three blocks. She went to the locker room during the fourth quarter before returning to the gym at the end of the contest.
“I was sick,” Podkowa said. “I wasn’t feeling good at the start of the game. I must have eaten something (bad). I don’t know what it was. It’s good that when I’m not hitting shots and I’m not having a good game, everyone else picked me up. It’s not about me. It’s about our team. Everyone on the team can step up.”
Victoria Harris contributed 10 points off the bench for Trinity, which led 28-11 at halftime and 39-16 after three quarters.
“The beauty of what we did tonight is that people think we’re a one-man show, but it’s the opposite,” Stritzel said.
It was the Blazers’ second consecutive Red Division tourney title and fourth in six seasons. They’ve won 18 games in a row since suffering a 62-47 home loss to Whitney Young on Dec. 17.
“We really took that loss to heart,” Prochaska said. “We’ve just been working really hard in practice.”