By Jason Maholy
A little more than halfway through the third quarter of last week’s game against Providence, things weren’t looking too good for Sandburg.
The Eagles had been stuck on 24 points for nearly six minutes, were scoreless in the second half and trailed the Celtics by 10.
“I’m sitting there looking at our score thinking, we haven’t scored yet,” Sandburg coach Nick Fotopoulos recalled. “I thought, OK, let’s continue to grind this out.”
Fotopoulos took advantage of the official “mask-break” timeout — a novelty this season during the COVID-19 pandemic — to take stock of the situation and let his team know it was now or never.
“I told them, this is the point in the game where we either get going or we go the opposite way,” he said. “But our girls are resilient. They fight, and that’s what’s been awesome about this group.”
The Eagles did fight. Employing a 1-3-1 full-court press, they forced turnovers on the Celtics next four possessions — never allowing them to get past half court — and put together a 22-5 run over the next six minutes bridging the third and fourth quarters.
What had been a 10-point deficit with less than 4 minutes to go in the third turned into a seven-point lead two-and-a-half minutes into the fourth. Sandburg went on to win, 54-47, and entering this week had won four straight games to improve to 7-4.
“That really changed the flow of the game,” Fotopoulos said of going to the team’s “Gold” defense. “And Josie Canellis got hot and just changed the course of the game.
“I was proud of the girls after that rough 4 to 5 minutes we had in the third quarter. It was fun.”
Canellis, the Eagles dynamic sophomore guard, was instrumental in the comeback. She scored 13 points during the game-changing run and wreaked havoc on the defensive end.
“She was everywhere,” Fotopoulos said. “She has quick hands and quick feet, and in the open floor like that she can disrupt. She was a huge spark. She caught fire offensively and made it happen defensively.”
Canellis, Sandburg’s leading scorer as a freshman and again this season, finished with 24 points. Junior forward Charlotte Trunk scored 14 points and junior wing Lauren Coghlan had nine.
“Charlotte Trunk has been awesome,” Fotopoulos said. “She gives us that dimension we need in terms of scoring and rebounding, and she’s really good around the rim.”
The future appears bright for the Eagles, who start three juniors and two sophomores. Joining Canellis, Trunk and Coghlan in the starting five are junior guard Erin O’Connor and sophomore guard Claire Callaghan.
With no postseason this year, they have their eyes on competing, improving and setting themselves up for what could be a special season in 2021-22.
“We’re really young, but this group is strong and they play hard,” Fotopoulos said. “We’re just super grateful and happy we have this chance to compete and be together and get better together, so that’s been our real focus.
“We didn’t know if this season was going to happen, and because of that we’re going to be thankful. And because we’re thankful, let’s get after it. Let’s see where we stack up, because we have aspirations to play next year for a regional and sectional title.”
If there is one word Fotopoulos would sue to describe this year’s Eagles, it’s “resilient.”
“That’s kind of what this whole season is about,” he said. “If we can get through all this (pandemic) stuff, we can get through a lot of things.”
The Eagles have demonstrated that resilience over the past two weeks. They were coming off losses to Bolingbrook and Lincoln-Way West heading into their game Feb. 20 against rival Lincoln-Way East, and saw a 10-point lead over the Griffins dissolve into a four-point second-half deficit. They fought back to win, 47-46, then followed that with the riveting comeback victory over Providence.
They followed those victories with a 62-43 blowout of District 230 rival Andrew and a hard-fought, 39-38 win over Lockport. The latter was their second triumph over the Porters this season.
The Eagles will be tested repeatedly the final week and a half of the season. They’ll face Homewood-Flossmoor tomorrow, March 4, then travel to Oak Lawn on Saturday, March 6, to face the unbeaten Spartans. Following that will be games against Bolingbrook, Homewood-Flossmoor, Lincoln-Way East and St. Laurence.
“I’m just really proud of the way we’re handling those situations and competing,” Fotopoulos said. “The wins are great, but the job for us is to compete and get better because we have aspirations. We have to continue to build and compete and have fun together.
“The one thing about this group is they’re never going to give up. It’s a cool thing to see, that the stuff we’re preaching and teaching is coming together.”