By Jeremy Balan
The coaches and many of the players may have changed, but the script has remained the same.
Convent of the Sacred Heart High School owns University in girls basketball.
The Cubs extended their winning streak over the Red Devils in Bay Counties League West play to 12 games and sealed the regular-season league championship with a 55-44 victory on Friday at University High School.
The difference was the third quarter, where the Cubs (14-6, 8-0) held University (20-3, 6-2) to just four points and the Red Devils shot 1-for-10 from the floor, allowing Convent to take a 44-28 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been going through a lot of tough stretches offensively, but if we play solid defense then we’ll be fine,” said Convent head coach Jon Mercado.
The Red Devils weren’t done, though, and after Convent opened up its largest lead of the game on a layup from junior point guard Isabella Borges with 7 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, University went on a 14-1 run to cut the Convent lead to 49-43 with 2:30 left.
But Convent responded with it’s own run, a 6-1 spurt to end the game, to seal the victory.
“We just walk away from this one excited about the fourth quarter,” said University head coach Jason Montana. “We’ve convinced ourselves that we can play a certain level of basketball that we haven’t played yet this year. As much as we’d like the win, there are certainly a ton of positives we can take away from this.”
After largely being held down by the aggressive Convent defense through three quarters, standout University center Amelia King spurred the late run with 10 points in the fourth quarter to finish with a game-high 19 points and seven rebounds.
Three Convent players fouled out in the fourth quarter, all of which spent significant time guarding King.
“She’s learning now that she has to continue working even when she’s being held or grabbed,” Montana said. “Tonight, she played right through it and it’s a big difference over previous games.”
While University’s offensive focus was with King in the paint, the Cubs got most of their scoring from Borges and fellow guard Jaime Hun-Nishikado. The pair combined the 25 points and constantly pressured University’s guards on the defensive end.
Borges had a team-high 14 points, added two blocks and four steals on the defensive end, and was the primary distributor in the Convent offense.
“She brings leadership more than anything else,” Mercado said of Borges. “We feel that we have the best guards in the league. They go up against each other in practice, so when they get into games they’re not nervous or anything.”
Outside of King’s contributions, the Red Devils struggled to score for much of the game and didn’t do themselves any favors at the free throw line. University got to the line 32 times and only made 16 attempts.
In his first year coaching at University, Montana did not feel that the losing streak to Convent was a burden on him personally, but acknowledged it had some impact on his players.
“It’s not on my back, but it looms a little bit,” Montana said, “That’s why I feel tonight was a good sign, because we didn’t fold down by 16 heading into the fourth quarter. It’s big-game experience and it’s coming.”
Isabella Borges – 14
Jaime Hum-Nishikado – 11
Erin Hanley – 8
Three players tied with 5 points
Amelia King – 19
Kaiza Molina – 7
Kayla Symanovich – 7
Alana Zack – 7
Two players tied with 2 points