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Lady Crusaders pull off tight win in tourney opener

It wasn’t easy, but Lady Crusader basketball delivered down the stretch on Thursday in a comeback victory.
St. John (3-2) took on the Dawson Bulldogs as each team began its quest for first place in the Avalon Tournament. Dawson led after each of the first two quarters, but St. John was the better team in the second half to emerge with a 38-35 win.
“We have some fantastic female athletes at St. John where late in the game, our girls can dig down deep and pull out close games,” said coach Brian Pierce.
“Physically, we’ve got some feisty, hard-working players any coach would be honored to have. Dawson is a public school who’s been playing basketball longer than us this year. Our girls are learning a new system on the fly and maybe this was an upset, so credit each one of our players for stepping up.”
Carli Bragg played a well-rounded ballgame for St. John with nine points, six rebounds, three assists and four steals. Jennifer Maliska delivered seven points, three assists and five steals, while Hannah Patton (six points) and Samantha Pleiner (five points, four rebounds, three assists) were also key offensive cogs. Leslie Bell (five rebounds, block) and Amy Daigle (steal) each scored four points for the winning team.
Both teams started fast in the opening quarter as Maliska dropped an early transition layup through the net before Bragg assisted Patton on a wing three-pointer. Pleiner scored on a putback late in the quarter while Bell also attacked the offensive boards and blocked a shot to boot. Bragg and Daigle each made a steal in the frame as Dawson led 13-11 after one.
“Leslie is definitely our main rebounder down low,” Pierce said.
“She plays with such confidence inside and isn’t intimidated by anybody, which will really benefit us at playoff time. We had an idea [Dawson] would go to two strong players – a ball handler and a shooter. We mixed and matched our defense to make sure they didn’t get the same [defensive] look in any three-minute stretch.”
Maliska got off to a great start in the second quarter with a midrange bankshot and consecutive steals. Dawson took advantage of some St. John transition turnovers to pull ahead 18-13, but Rachel Bush came up big off the bench with a steal and a putback to close the gap. Pleiner’s defensive hustle was fantastic in the quarter and she also hit two late free throws after being fouled on a putback attempt as Dawson headed to the locker room up 20-17.
“I was very excited to see Rachel come in against a physical, aggressive team and play with confidence,” Pierce said.
“She did what she was supposed to do with a great contribution. Samantha is our defensive guru with her speed and lateral movement. She knows how to shut down anybody we might face and her defense gives me great confidence in what we can do this year.
“The girls are so unselfish they often don’t think about trying to take the ball all the way to the hoop themselves, which can sometimes lead to those turnovers. As we play more games, they’ll be more willing to take it all the way on their own.”
“During halftime, coach talked about what we were doing wrong and we tried to fix it in the third quarter,” Maliska said.
On that note, the third saw St. John at its best to sail into the lead. After Dawson scored the first three points, Bragg answered with a big wing three. A Maliska steal led to a Bragg transition layup and then Bragg returned the favor, finding Maliska for a midrange jumper.
Bragg had two steals over the next few minutes and found Daigle for a layup on an inbounds pass. Pleiner was busy diving into passing lanes to disrupt the Bulldog offense and Patton capped off the quarter with a three-pointer via a Maliska assist for a 29-27 advantage.
“Carli is one of the most versatile and talented athletes you’ll find,” Pierce said.
“She has the courage to take big shots when you call on her, but she’s such an impact player at both ends of the floor – doing whatever needs to be done. For just being a sophomore, Hannah has such a confident shot. She stands as good a chance at making a crucial shot as anybody on the team.”
The fourth quarter was a free-throw fest and while Dawson converted its first three attempts, things were definitely going to take a turn for the worst. For the rest of the ballgame, the Bulldogs repeatedly shot themselves in the foot by making just three of their final 14 attempts.
“Free throws are tough to make late in a game and you could see fatigue catching up with Dawson at the line,” Pierce said.
Meanwhile, Pleiner and Bragg were both hard at work on the glass while a Daigle putback tied the score at 32-32. Bragg’s speed paid off in the middle of the quarter as she scored a transition layup on a Maliska assist and then stole the ball for another fastbreak bucket to make it 37-34. She fouled out with 1:22 remaining, so it was up to her St. John teammates to hold on.
Faith Clemons made a couple of key plays in the final minute with a big shot block and she also tied up a Dawson ball handler to award possession back to her team with just nine seconds left. Daigle gave her team a scare via a head injury with three seconds left, but Maliska shut the door on Dawson with a steal (her second in the final minute) and ensuing free throw to send St. John to the winner’s bracket.
“I knew they were going to pass it somewhere downcourt and the girl in front of me was open,” Maliska said of her enormous final steal.
“Coach told us to play back a little bit and when the pass was made I went for it.”
“Jennifer is so aggressive defensively and the player you want to call on late in games at that end of the floor, which she proved today,” Pierce said.
“Faith is another sophomore with great potential. She was up against some rough, physical girls inside, but she battled for rebounds without being intimidated.”
As far as she was concerned, Maliska felt like the gritty win could give her team a momentum boost for the rest of the tournament.
“It was a really good win because it gets our confidence up,” the sophomore said.
“We don’t look very intimidating when we come out, but it’s always good to get a win like that under our belt against a good team. Everybody tries to play an all-around game and I thought we all did a good job.”
The Lady Crusaders will now face Avalon – a team they beat in the season opener – in the second round of the tournament today at 3:30 p.m.
“We need to be more patient on offense and cut down on our fouls,” Pierce said.
“If we do those things, we should have a great shot to win this tournament.”

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Posted by on Nov 30 2007. Filed under News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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