By Michael Wojtychiw
There’s something about being the first group of people to accomplish a feat. When Ogden and South Shore took the court on Tuesday in the first game of the Chicago Public League’s Championship games at Credit Union 1 Arena, they were looking to become the first-ever champion of the Blue/White Division playoffs. Prior to this year, only the Red Division had held a postseason conference tournament.
The two teams came into the game from opposite directions as well.
Ogden, the 16th seed, was the lowest seeded team in the bracket, meaning it had to go on the road to defeat all of its higher seeded opponents: top-seeded North Grand, eighth-seeded Clemente and 12th-seeded Mather in the semifinals at Hyde Park.
South Shore, on the other hand, was the second seed in the bracket, took down 15th-seeded Fenger in the opening round and 10th-seeded Dunbar in the quarterfinals, before getting a bye into the title game.
The Owls completed their Cinderella run Tuesday by knocking off the Tars 35-23 to win the title.
“Being someone who came to UIC for games and my uncle being (former UIC player) Othyus Jeffers, being one of the first females in my family to play here feels great, it’s so amazng,” Ogden’s Zydrea Childs said.
“We were really motivated,” Ogden’s Jade Hamilton-Gill said. “The six-thirty (A.M.) practices were not easy to get up for, but we still got up for them and we went all out.”
“That really pushed us.”
Henderson didn’t actually tell his squad what seed they were until the morning of the championship game, trying to keep the mentality that the squad has had all year.
“I told them today that we were seeded 16th,” Ogden coach Simeon Henderson said. “We were the Cinderella and we finished first. I didn’t tell them.”
“Our motto is ‘Be Simbolic.’ And to us that means to simply be our best. That simulates growth. And they bought into that. They went through adversity in the first half, came back, stood strong and finished.”
And the Owls did it how they’ve been doing it all year.
The Owls deployed their full-court press and a tight defense that helped lead them to creating 47 South Shore turnovers, including 26 steals.
“Defense wins games,” Childs said.
“I told them ‘I know we can score, but if they can play the defense the way they’ve been playing it, we’ve got a chance,’” Henderson said. “The defense is just tenacious. “
After being down 19-14 at the half, the Owls took the lead for good with about a minute-and-a-half to go in the third quarter thanks to a free throw by Hamilton-Gill. The foul by South Shore’s Brooklyn Kendrick also fouled her out of the game with her leading the Tars with 12 points at the time.
One big aspect of the game that helped the Owls was having Hamilton-Gill, who stands 6’2 or 6’3. That type of height isn’t usually seen in the Blue or White Divisions so when the sophomore was in the game, the Owls offense ran through her much of the game.
“It’s been a work in progress and I can honestly say I’ve watched the girls get better each and every practice,” Henderson said.
“It’s the maturity that I like to see and that’s why she and her teammates are going to be so deadly…they’re getting it.”
Unfortunately both teams’ seasons ended earlier this week when the Owls lost to Crane in the regional semifinals and South Shore was knocked out by Perspectives-Leadership in the IHSA State Playoffs.
Both teams return a majority of their players next season, as Hamilton-Gill, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds, will only be a junior for Ogden and Kendrick is only a freshman this year for South Shore.
“It’s beautiful because they’re coming back and I can only imagine what’s going to happen between now and the summer, just outting them through that work,” Henderson said.