A 1-2 record in the Catholic League basketball tournament might not seem the ideal way to tune up for the “second season” — the IHSA state tournament — but the conference event served a purpose for the Leo Lions.
Leo, 18-8 and seeded No. 1 among 13 teams in its Class 1-A sub-section, opens state tournament play in the 1-A Regional at Walther Christian in Melrose Park at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23. The Lions will face the winner of Monday’s 6 p.m. game between No. 7 Douglass Charter and and No. 11 Spry Community.
No. 5 Amandia Charter plays host Walther Christian (No. 12) in Monday’s 7:30 game, with the winner to face No. 4 Hope Academy on Tuesday at 7:30. Tuesday’s winners will meet for the regional championship and a berth in the Harvest Christian Sectional in Elgin on Friday, Feb. 26.
Leo, No 9 seed in the 20-team Catholic League field, beat Loyola 62-55 in overtime at Loyola on Friday, Feb. 13. The Lions got 20 points from Darias Oliver, 15 from Mykel Hampton and 11 with eight rebounds from Chris Winters while surviving the absence of All-Catholic League point guard Darius Branch, who fouled out for the first time this season. Leo’s 8-for-9 showing at the foul line in overtime sealed the victory.
The Lions’ reward for their strong showing was a matchup with top-seeded Fenwick in the quarterfinals at St. Rita on Sunday, Feb. 14. The Lions led by six at halftime and were even through three quarters, but in the fourth the Friars showed why they’re the second-ranked team in Illinois, outscoring turnover-plagued Leo 19-6 on the way to a 69-56 victory.
Whereas free-throw shooting was the difference for the Lions at Loyola, the skill deserted them against Fenwick as they made only two of nine in the fourth quarter while watching the Friars pull away. Branch scored 15 points, Oliver added 14 and Hampton and Winters had 10 apiece for Leo.
A game against Seton for fifth place in the CCL tournament was the Lions’ last pre-state tournament exercise. Coach Frison chose to rest Branch, Oliver and Hampton, who was nursing a sprained ankle. His bench players got valuable playing time and made a game of it before losing 66-62 to the Sting. Winters scored a season-high 23 points and Corielle Robinson had 17.
“We’ve been pointing for the state all year, and we have a chance to make a good run if we play our game,” Frison said.
Leo has not been past the sectional finals since 2009, the last time it went Downstate. The Lions won the Class A state championship in 2004.
Regional winners from Arlington Heights, Luther North and Rockford Christian will join the Walther Christian Regional winner at the Harvest Christian Sectional in Elgin March 1-2 and 4. The Sectional winner advances to Northern Illinois University for a Supersectional matchup with the River Ridge Hanover Sectional winner on Tuesday, March 8. The Class 1-A State Tournament is March 11-12 at Carver Arena in Peoria.
Feb. 22-26: Class 1-A Regional at Walther Christian, Melrose Park
Feb. 22: Douglass vs. Spry Community, 6 p.m.
Amandia Charter vs. Walther Christian, 7:30
Feb. 23: Leo vs. Douglas-Spry Community winner, 6 p.m.
Hope Academy vs. Amandia-Walther winner, 7:30
Feb. 26: Leo-Douglass/Spry winner vs. Hope-Amandia/Walther winner, 7 p.m.
March 1-4: Class 1-A Sectional, Harvest Christian Academy, Elgin
March 8: Class 1-A Supersectional at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
March 11-12 Class 1-A State Tournament, Carver Arena, Peoria.