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James, Augustus Spark St. Mary's to NSCHSAA Final
St. Mary’s Head Coach Tom Flynn knows his Lady Gaels’ unblemished record is impressive, but he’s taking nothing for granted. Despite this, his players occasionally cause his blood pressure to rise.
“I told them it’s hard to beat a team three times, and thinking about the [NSCHSAA championship] game on Sunday…you can’t do that,” said the coach. “I knew this game wouldn’t be easy.”
It sure wasn’t. The #4 seeded Kellenberg Lady Firebirds gave the #1 seeded St. Mary’s all they could handle - they secured a lead once and tied the game twice in the second half. But ultimately, the Gaels’ defense and the workhorse play of senior Alyssa James proved to be the bane of the Firebirds, as St. Mary’s prevailed with a 45-40 victory and secured their place in the championship game.
The Gaels got off to an 11-5 start behind the offense of junior Jasmine Bryant (9 points), but as soon as they began to miss easy shots in the second quarter, Kellenberg responded nicely, even with star center Candace Belvedere on the bench with two fouls.
“We didn’t hit open shots,” said Coach Flynn.
A deep trey from senior Kathleen Meyer made it a 20-15 game, but the forward tandem of James and sophomore Jordan Augustus cleaned up inside to secure a nine point lead for the Gaels at the half, 26-17.
When Belvedere was let loose in the second half, though, she showed why she’s a force to be reckoned with in the NSCHSAA. The Firebirds fed junior in the paint and she made the Gaels pay on each possession. Some mid-range firepower from senior guard Amanda Crimarco (10 points) provided an extra jolt, and with 3:30 to go in the third, Belvedere pounded in a deuce to make it a 31-31 game. Augustus got into a rhythm to keep the Gaels afloat and James making a mark on the offensive glass also helped St. Mary’s cause, but Belvedere willed her team back from every momentum shift in the Gaels’ favor. With 6:10 left in the game, she finally gave Kellenberg their first lead, 39-38 - but it was short lived. Coach Flynn knows games like these are won with defense and experience; he just needed the Gaels to get a move on it.
“I think in the fourth quarter we really got after the ball defensively and did a better job rebounding,” he said. “And really, our seniors stepped up and made big plays at the end of the game.”
And no player rebounded, defended and displayed senior spunk like James. The center capped an 8-0 St. Mary’s run by finishing an assist from speedy sophomore point guard Mei-Lyn Bautista (4 points, 5 assists) and later nailed a pair of free throws to help Ziploc the win. And her feats on the glass and on defense were evident in her whopping 18 rebounds, 10 steals and 12 blocks. Her 10 points awarded her the elusive quadruple double. And valiant efforts like these will be necessary on Sunday if the Gaels wish to topple defending champs, St. Anthony’s.
“All year our goal has been 3-3-13,” said Coach Flynn. “We have a lot of new players and worked hard all season to get here.”
Augustus chimed in with an impressive double double by way of 16 points and 13 rebounds. Belvedere paced Kellenberg with a game high 18 points.
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