By Randy Whalen
This past Saturday, Nov. 18, the Joliet Central girls basketball team notched its first victory of the season.
But the seeds for the win were planted three days before.
The Steelmen defeated Joliet Catholic Academy 54-44 that Saturday morning on the final day of the WJOL Girls Basketball Tournament, held at Joliet Junior College.
While it felt good to get that initial W, the Steelmen felt they played well enough on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at home in a 55-47 loss to Plainfield North, which was also part of the WJOL Tournament.
“We played really hard,” Joliet Central coach Laura Brumfiel said. “We’re young and we played our butts off. We’ll continue to learn in late-game situations and we’ll execute a little better.
"But this was a completely different game than Monday (Nov. 13) night. We played with some confidence. We had people step up. They gave us everything they had. You can’t ask for much more.”
After losing 56-35 to Providence on that Monday, in the opening game of the WJOL Tourney. The Steelmen certainly stepped up against Plainfield North. Sophomore guard Nevaeh Wright led all scorers with 18 points, including 14 in the second half. Senior forward Aubrey Weems added 12 points and five rebounds, Sophomore guard Elliana Fowler had nine points and eight rebounds and senior forward Arika Taylor finished with eight points and seven rebounds.
"We had a better game than Monday," Wright said after the Plainfield North game. "We had to come out and give an all-out effort. My teammates got me the ball and trusted me."
Joliet Central (1-3), which was 10-20 last season but had four freshmen on the varsity, ended the first quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 13-7 lead against Plainfield North. Fowler, who was one of those freshman last year, ended the opening quarter with a layup.
The streak continued as Weems had a pair of free throws to make it 15-7. Weems then scored on a driving layup with 4:58 left in the second quarter and the Steelmen led 17-9.
But after that, they were only 2-of-6 from the free throw line the rest of the half. In a rule change, there is no longer a one-and-bonus free throw situation. Instead, there are still shooting fouls, and also after five fouls in a quarter, the team that is fouled now gets two free throws.
The Tigers ended the half on a 13-2 run to go ahead 22-19 at halftime. Joliet Central could never catch up in the second half. Wright made a three-pointer midway through the third quarter to close the score to 30-29. But Plainfield North responded with a 9-0 run to go back up by 10 points.
It was 43-36 after three. The Steelmen drew within 46-41 with 4:09 left in the game as Weems hit a pair of free throws. But that was as close as they got.
"We played as a team," Weems said. "Energy-wise it was a lot better (against Plainfield North). We played hard, trusted each other, and gave everything. We're quick. We just have to keep the momentum up."
For Plainfield North, it was the Isabella's who stepped up big time. Junior forward Isabella Gruber had 13 points and nine rebounds, and Isabella Garcia scored 13 points and added eight rebounds. The pair combined for 16 points in the second half.
Kaitlyn Sedillo, a junior guard, added 12 points, and junior forward Sydney Scott scored nine points for Plainfield North (3-1). The Tigers opened the tournament on Monday, Nov. 13, with a close 54-51 win over Lincoln-Way West. They fell to Providence 60-38 on Friday, Nov. 17, and then defeated Minooka 56-37 on the last day of the tourney to place third. So they are expecting good things under new head coach, Matt Major.
In the final day win over JCA, the Steelmen led 8-4 after the first quarter, 25-15 at halftime, and 39-32 after three. That was much better than the day before when they lost 58-41 to host Lincoln-Way West as part of the tournament.
While Joliet Central placed seventh out of eight teams at the tournament, there is still confidence that this season will be a good one.
"Yes, I feel like a little bit of a leader, even as a sophomore," Wright said. "I feel like we can be really good."
So does Brumfiel, who is in her eighth season as head coach and guided the Steelmen to a record of 24-7 in 2018-19 and 26-6 in 2019-20.
"Nevaeh leads us," Brumfiel said. "We have to make free throws but if we keep playing hard, we'll be OK. I'd hate to play us at the end of the season."