Maine South’s Meegan Fahy (5) gets an open look and hits a three against Evanston, January 26, 2024, Evanston, Illinois | Allen Cunningham / For the Sun-Times
Allen Cunningham, Chicago Sun Times
Maine South had gotten off to a slow start Friday. The Hawks were missing shots and discombobulated offensively. The Evanston gym had a lot of energy because of senior night.
A raucous crowd — complete with a student band playing after every three-pointer — only added to what was a tough conference road game.
In the third quarter, Wildkits seniors Kailey Starks and Zuri Ransom started imposing their will on the game. They combined to score all 22 points for Evanston in the third quarter, cutting the Wildkits’ deficit to five before Maine South guard Meegan Fahy responded with a three-pointer.
Fahy came up huge in the Hawks’ 64-55 victory, scoring 30 points and grabbing five rebounds. Whether it was barreling toward the rim, drawing contact and going to the free-throw line or making three-pointers, Fahy delivered for Maine South (24-1, 9-0 Central Suburban South).
‘‘That’s what a senior and big-time player does,’’ Hawks coach Jeff Hamann said. ‘‘She is one of the best in the state. There’s no doubt about it, and she stepped up big.’’
Maine South held a 10-point lead at the half before the Wildkits (9-14, 4-4) charged back behind Starks and Ransom. Those two did everything they could to steal the game in front of a lively home crowd.
‘‘We could barely hear each other on the court,’’ Fahy said. ‘‘We just kept getting louder and louder and supporting each other. They had a lot of fans, so they’re just, like, yelling at you, and picking each other up was important.’’
The setup at Evanston is different from most high school gyms. The crowds are elevated above the court, as though players are competing in a pit. It took the Hawks some time to adjust to the environment, but they weathered the storm.
Maine South used hand signals to call plays, something the players worked on in practice.
‘‘Once we got in the groove of communicating defensively and our players on the bench calling things out for us, it was such a group effort,’’ said senior guard Ava Blagojevich, who finished with seven points. ‘‘And once we got the hang of it, there was no stopping us.’’
Defense is what enabled the Hawks to build a lead. After a sluggish start, they woke up when they locked in defensively in the second quarter.
‘‘That’s what makes us very difficult to beat is our defense,’’ Hamann said. ‘‘We extend our zones. When we do that, we pull the other team out. As long as we communicate, we can be an elite defensive team.’’
Maine South’s defense creates indecision for its foes. Offenses usually force defenses to react, but the Hawks’ pressure defense forces offenses to respond. Anticipation is critical for Maine South on that end of the floor. The Hawks constantly are jumping into passing lanes and seemingly a step ahead.
Junior guard Ally Pape finished with 10 points and junior forward Caitlin Leyden with nine points and seven rebounds as Maine South continued to tune up for the state tournament.
‘‘This team is something special and unlike any other team I’ve played on,’’ Blagojevich said.
Kyle Williams is a staff reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.