Trinity's up-and-down 2005-06 season reached the stratosphere on Monday when the Blazers crushed Harlan 73-56 to win the DePaul University Super-sectional championship and advance to the Class AA Girls Basketball State tournament for only the second time in the program's history.
Although the Blazers (22-6) failed to defeat a top-ranked team throughout the regular season, and were forced to wade through a quagmire of controversy when in midseason their head coach, Don Sansone, was fired without a specific explanation from the school's administration, the team persevered in the postseason and shocked even cross-town rival and No. 1-ranked Fenwick, 51-50, in the Riverside Brookfield Sectional championship on Thursday.
Trinity (23-6) downed Harlan with the play of freshman Monica Albano, junior Lykendra Johnson and senior Toni Carter. Albano (20 points) scored 14 points in the first quarter to give her team an early 20-11 lead. Johnson led Trinity with 21 points to go along with her nine rebounds. Carter added 16 points for the Blazers, who outscored Harlan 19-5 in the closing period for the win.
But Trinity's biggest upset of the season came in the form of Thursday's victory over cross-town rival Fenwick, a team that had been ranked as high as No. 1 nationally in some polls.
With seconds left in the game, Johnson completed a three-point play that propelled the Blazers past the Friars, who closed out a stellar season with a record of 32-2.
The Friars led 12-4 in the first period when the Blazers jumped on a 9-0 run. Trinity held a slight edge after one period, 16-14. The Blazers closed out the first half on a 6-0 run to go into the break up 29-24.
Johnson and Carter were tough on the boards for Trinity, while Fenwick missed Devereaux Peters' height advantage as the junior forward was forced to the bench in foul trouble.
With Fenwick struggling on offense, Trinity took its biggest lead in the third quarter. But the Blazers chiseled away at the eight-point deficit and eventually tied the game up at 40-40 in the final quarter.
Playing with four fouls, Peters sparked a scoring run that finally gave Fenwick the lead, 49-43. But Trinity didn't give up. After a quick basket, the Blazers received a gift from the Friars. Albano was fouled from behind the three-point line. The freshman sank all three shots to pull the Blazers to within one.
Following a 1-for-2 effort at the free-throw line by Fenwick's Andrea DiCanio, Johnson drove to the basket, scored, and completed the three-point play from the line. The clock showed five seconds and a slim one-point lead for Trinity. Fenwick tried to throw a long inbounds pass to Peters, but Johnson came up with the ball for Trinity as time expired.
Albano led the Blazers with 13 points. Both Johnson and Carter finished with double doubles. Johnson had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Carter finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds.
Alison Jackson led Fenwick with 13 points, while Peters and Erin Power had 11 apiece. DiCanio, who has played for both Fenwick and Trinity in her high school career, reflected on the contest after the game.
"That was probably one of the toughest games I had to play, especially in my senior year, knowing that it could either be a great thing or our last game," she said.
"I look at it like this: It's a four-month season," said Fenwick head coach Dave Power. "It's unfortunate that our first and only loss to a team in Illinois happens at the sectional final. Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce the way you want it to."
Trinity's last trip downstate was in 2003. The Blazers will take on Belleville Althoff in the quarterfinals in Normal on Friday at 6:30 p.m.