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Crunchtime success vaults Lady Crusaders into big dance

Lady Crusader basketball could’ve folded when the going got tough late in Saturday’s regional playoff game in Plano, but a couple of huge plays by returning all-state players were just what the doctor ordered for a return trip to the state tournament.
Down three to the Amarillo Ascension Cardinals with just over a minute remaining, Carli Bragg stole the ball at midcourt and drove to the hoop as she managed to convert a three-point play to tie the score at 40-40.
After holding Amarillo at bay, Amy Daigle buried her fifth three-pointer of the game on a Bragg assist with 45 seconds left to seal the deal in a 47-41 victory. St. John (26-6) disposed of the Cardinals relatively easily in their playoff opener at home last year, but Amarillo brought considerably more to the table this time around.
“[Amarillo] was better than last year, but I think we still won because we all worked together well,” Daigle said.
“At halftime [down by two], coach talked about if we really wanted to go to state or not and I guess we showed that we did.”
Daigle was fantastic offensively in the victory with 25 points to go along with four rebounds, two assists and a steal. Bragg finished with one of her vintage stat-stuffing lines: 12 points, six rebounds, five assists, six steals and two blocks. Fellow starters Samantha Pleiner (four points, six rebounds, three steals) and Leslie Bell (two points, seven rebounds, assist, two steals, block) each had key plays to push big blue over the top.
“Amarillo definitely came prepared for this game and scouted us well, but they were also well-coached,” said coach Brian Pierce.
“They did a fantastic job to give our girls all they could handle. We got lulled into their half-court game for a while before getting back to what we do best.”
Amarillo took an early 4-0 lead before Daigle hit a pair of jumpers off Hannah Patton assists and added two free throws to go up 7-4. Daigle finished with nine first-quarter points while Bragg pulled down five rebounds with a steal and a block. Jennifer Maliska quickly sparked her team with an assist and a driving layup late in the quarter, yet Amarillo hung close at 13-10 by working for high-percentage shots around the basket.
“Carli pulling down those rebounds kept us in the game early so we didn’t have to play from behind,” Pierce said.
“Jennifer is perfect for our transition game and has a natural chemistry with the starters where she can come right in and contribute. Amy has such confidence in her shot and it was great to have a player that can step up with a major impact.”
“I’d been shooting well in practices lately, so I knew I might have a good game,” Daigle added.
The Lady Crusaders appeared on the verge of a blowout early in the second quarter as Daigle followed an Amarillo free throw with consecutive corner threes on assists by Maliska and Bragg – forcing the Cardinals to call timeout down 19-11. The tide totally turned from there, however, as Amarillo finished the half on a 10-0 run.
While the Cardinals continued to get quality looks in the paint, St. John jumpers quit falling and the red team began to control the glass as it would do for the remainder of the contest. Bell did manage to rebound well for her team in the quarter with a trio of boards.
“After we built the eight-point lead, I think we lost our defensive intensity,” Pierce said.
“We came in wanting to box out well against a bigger team. For whatever reason, we had an off night on the boards, but at the end we dug deep to still pull it out.
“Leslie did have a good rebounding game for us and she’s never afraid to battle down low. We knew Amarillo had the momentum at the half, so I reminded the players of how much hard work it took to get here and that we just had to play our game.”
Talk about playing their game, the Lady Crusaders absolutely took over the third quarter defensively with 10 steals and three blocks. Bragg, Bell and Faith Clemons all rejected shots, while Bragg (four), Pleiner and Maliska each committed theft multiple times. St. John still wasn’t firing on all cylinders offensively as the two teams traded 7-0 runs, but Bragg was able to cap off her huge quarter with a layup on a Daigle assist to tie the score at 28-28 heading to the fourth.
“Our defensive intensity has been key to our success, but we didn’t show any of that in the first half,” Pierce said.
“When you get this far, you don’t want to lose your bread and butter and we really took Amarillo out of sync in the third quarter. It seemed like Carli flipped a switch in the locker room and raised her game defensively the rest of the way.”
“I think our team has the best defense in 1A TAPPS and we played like it in the third quarter,” Daigle said.

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Posted by on Feb 26 2008. 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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