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Twice as nice

Doyle magnificent again
as Benet repeats as Class 4A state champions

By Matt LeCren

 
NORMAL – Great players make the players around them better.
 
Benet star guard Kathleen Doyle goes one step further.
 
“What impresses me about Kathleen is most of their kids are skilled, and they know what to do,” Trinity coach Mike Valente said. “Where she steps it up a level is she makes every other player on that team the best they can be.
 
“The other kids are skilled, but she makes them actually better than they are. I think she is the best player in Illinois.”
 
Few who witnessed Doyle lead the Redwings to their second-consecutive Class 4A state championship Saturday night would argue.
 
After torching Valente’s team, which had won 12-straight games, for 30 points in a 68-51 semifinal win Friday, Doyle tallied a game-high 24 points Saturday night as Benet knocked off Fremd 42-39 in a gritty defensive battle at Redbird Arena.
 
The Nebraska recruit missed her first five shots but finished with four 3-pointers. They included a pair during her 11-point fourth quarter as the Redwings (32-3) overcame a four-point deficit and won their 15th-consecutive game and 66th-in-72 outings since coach Joe Kilbride took over the program at the beginning of last season.
 
“It’s an amazing feeling to win state again,” Doyle said. “I don’t even remember what happened in the game.
 
“Honestly, right now I don’t remember a thing that happened in the fourth quarter other than I made some free throws, and Elise (Stout) made some free throws.”
 
It was a little more complicated than that.
 
Fremd (30-3), which attempted to avenge a 61-39 loss to the Redwings in last year’s state title game, succeeded in forcing Benet to play a slow, half-court game. 
 
The Vikings used their height advantage to bottle up the paint and denied Doyle an easy path to the basket, especially in the first and third quarters.
 
When 6-foot-2 senior forward Bryana Hopkins, a Northwestern recruit who scored 14 of her team-high 18 points in the second half, converted inside with 4:56 to go in the fourth quarter, the Vikings had their largest lead at 35-31.
 
Eight seconds later, Doyle answered with a trey from the left wing. Then 6-foot-1 junior center Katie Jaseckas, the only other Benet player to attempt a shot after intermission, tied the game with a free throw at the 4:16 mark.
 
On the ensuing possession, Doyle blocked two shots before Hopkins scored on a drive to put Fremd ahead 37-35.
 
Hopkins did not score or take a shot the rest of the way.
 
Meanwhile, Doyle got the ball on the left side again and looked for an opening. Finding none, she stepped back and drilled a three-pointer to give the Redwings a 38-37 lead with 2:26 remaining.
 
“I was trying to drive the gap, and then it wasn’t there. So I just stepped back and shot it,” Doyle said. “Good thing it went in, because I would have put us in a little bit of a hole. But my teammates have so much confidence in me, and I can’t say enough about them.”
 
Indeed, while only Jaseckas -- who had nine points, eight rebounds and two blocks -- scored more than one basket in the game, Doyle’s teammates were perfectly content to look to their leader on offense. The rest of the Redwings focused on tough defense and protected the ball -- Benet committed only four turnovers, none in the second half.
 
Both facets came into play down the stretch. Stout, Benet’s second-leading scorer with an average of nearly 13 points a game, scored only three points and took only two shots, both in the first half. But her defense created a deflection that led to a steal by sophomore Emma Lyne that turned into two Doyle free throws with 45.7 seconds left.
 
Then Fremd's 6-foot-2 junior Grace Tworek, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds, scored on a drive that pulled the Vikings within 40-39 with 28 ticks left.
 
Next, Doyle split a pair of free throws with 20.1 to go before Fremd's Hopkins missed a one-and-one, and Jaseckas grabbed the rebound with 18 seconds remaining.
 
Stout split a pair of free throws with 12.8 left that completed the scoring and forced Fremd to look for a game-tying trey that Tworek missed in the dying seconds.
 
Fremd’s Amanda McCartney tracked down the rebound, but Doyle slapped it away as time expired.
 
“Elise is always huge on defense and offense,” Doyle said. “She just makes big plays when we need them, hustle plays. She does all the dirty work for our team, and she’s been a pleasure to play with these last four years. I just love her to death.”
 
Doyle’s teammates love her as much for her unselfishness as her talent.
 
“We (graduated) some phenomenal players last year, but I think everyone stepped up on our team this year,” Jaseckas noted. “Kathleen took an even bigger role, and I don’t even know how she could do that. She always plays phenomenal every game, and she keeps us going.”
 
Doyle did so even when things weren’t going well, especially against arguably more talented teams like Fremd. 
 
In Benet's 53-51 supersectional win against Edwardsville, she scored 25 points, including the game-winner, to dig the Redwings out of a seven-point hole in the fourth quarter. And in the championship game, she remained calm after an ugly first quarter that ended with the Vikings leading 6-3.
 
“I don’t think we’ve ever scored that small amount of points in a quarter, so we knew something was going to change eventually and shots were going to fall,” Doyle said. “We weren’t worried about it. We just stayed the course and shots started falling for us.”
 
That they did. The Redwings began the second quarter with a 16-2 run, starting with three-straight treys, two by Doyle and one from Jaseckas.
 
Junior forward Kendal Schramek also hit a three, her only points of the game, before Doyle scored four more points on a steal and floater followed by a short jumper off an inbounds pass from Stout.
 
“Everyone in the gym could probably sense that we were struggling offensively,” Doyle said. “We were sort of playing Fremd’s half-court game when we really like to get in the full-court. We just settled down, ran our offense, and I got open looks and made them.”
 
Fremd's Hopkins started making shots once Schramek went to the bench after her third foul early in the third quarter. Hopkins tallied 10 points in the third quarter and Fremd went up 30-28 before Schramek came back in to start the fourth quarter.
 
“We just focused in on (Hopkins) more,” Doyle said. “She was getting buckets, and we needed to get stops. And so I think it was just mental focus mainly.”
 
That focus, as much as their physical ability, is what defined the Redwings during their second championship run.
 
“There’s a lot of character here, a lot of competitive grit and tenacity,” Kilbride said. “We talked about this, that there was going to be no flinch, we’re just going to play for 32 (minutes), and the kids did that.
 
"(The Vikings) had that one big run, and I called timeout just to say keep playing. And they did.”
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