By Tyler Trumbauer, Staff Writer
Sara Jones approached the foul line, received the bounce pass from the official and sunk her shot.
She repeated that process seven times in the #1 seed Northwestern Tigers’ (22-1) defeat of the #4 seed Notre Dame Green Pond Crusaders (18-5) by a score of 48-43 Wednesday night in the Colonial League semi-final game at Catasauqua High School.
Jones’ most crucial free throws came with less than one minute remaining in the contest as they extended the Tigers slim lead and sealed the victory for them.
When talking about those made foul shots, 10th year head coach of the lady Tigers, Chris Deustch, put it very simply, “They were huge.”
Northwestern took the opening tip-off and control of the game from the first whistle. The Tigers by means of spreading the ball around opened up the game on a 13-0 run. The Crusaders didn’t score their first point until senior guard Shannon Moran drilled a foul shot with 4:36 left in the first quarter.
Chipping away at their early deficit Notre Dame’s Lexi McGivern drained a floater from just inside the right elbow to bring the score to 16-11 at the conclusion of the first quarter. That shot energized the struggling Crusaders who fought back during the second quarter and took the lead late in the quarter. As the teams headed to their respective locker rooms, the scoreboard read 24-23, in Notre Dame Green Pond’s favor.
A big factor in the Crusaders revival was their ability to contain Sara Jones in the first half. They held the 5’8” senior to only four points during the first 16 minutes of play.
Finding themselves down one at intermission after originally leading by 13, Deutsch told his girls to not give up, “This is basically a tie game. We have 16 minutes left. This is a game of spurts, we can come back.”
The third quarter was a game of defense and sloppy play. Those eight minutes were laced with turnovers and fouls. After the third quarter, the Tigers retook the lead and were winning 33-30. Defensively the Tigers responded in the third by only allowing the Crusaders to net six points that frame.
Starting point guard for the Tigers, sophomore Sabrina Mertz, left the game late in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury and did not return to the contest. She is questionable for Friday’s championship game.
Senior forward Kaleen Suter, a starter for the Tigers and a usual threat underneath, was hindered by foul trouble early in the second half. Just a few minutes in to the third quarter she had accumulated her third foul of the game and watched most of the third quarter from the bench. In her absence, 5’9” junior Trista Cunnigham picked up the slack and delivered in a huge way.
With the Crusaders unable to find a way to halt Cunningham offensively or avoid her defensively she contributed 19 points and created multiple turnovers. She elaborated to me how well the offense was clicking, “The thing with all these girls is we really connect. I know they can always get the ball to me and I can always get the ball to them. We know how each other plays and we can always find each other.”
A back and forth battle ensued for most of the final quarter. With 1:12 left to play Northwestern took a timeout as they were up 43-40. That was the beginning of the incredible foul shooting display put on by not only Sara Jones, but sophomore Sarah Segan as well. The 5’8” guard missed the last six games with a knee injury and was a game-time decision for this game, but still she made three clutch free throws when they mattered the most.
As was par for the whole game, the Crusaders fittingly would not go down without one last fight. With the clock ticking away rapidly McGivern put up a three-point attempt from way downtown and drilled it with 47.9 seconds remaining. She was a mere 3-10 from beyond the arc, but made that momentous one to pull Notre Dame within two.
However that was all Notre Dame Green Pond had left in the tank. They could not muster any more offensive attacks in the last seconds of the game and had to resort to fouling, but the very skilled Tigers made their shots from the candy stripe. As the Tigers distanced themselves, the buzzer sounded and the Tigers eliminated the Crusaders from the league tournament as they defeated them by a final score of 48-43.
Northwestern advances to the Colonial League girls’ championship game this Friday night against the #2 seed Southern Lehigh Spartans. With sweat dripping down his face Deutsch expressed his thoughts about the 1-2 matchup in the final, “Southern Lehigh is a two-time defending champ. So we are going to try and beat them and not let them get that third one. Southern Lehigh has been playing as good as anyone in the last few weeks. We have our starters back, so that helps and we will have to play our best.”
That title game will be played at Freedom High School. It is scheduled for a 6pm tip-off.
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