By Jeremy Balan
After leading visiting St. Francis just 6-5 after the first quarter in the West Catholic Athletic League semifinals, the St. Ignatius girls’ basketball team found a flow on offense, but it didn’t have to.
The Wildcats’ defense was enough.
St. Ignatius held the Lancers to a season-low in points and forced 23 turnovers in a runaway 59-28 win on Thursday to advance to the WCAL championship game on Saturday night, where it will face regular-season co-league champion Mitty.
The fourth-seeded Lancers (17-9) shot just over 31 percent from the floor and just 5-of-17 from the free-throw line, while St. Ignatius guards Maria Kemiji-McDonald and Kaitlyn Crawley had 10 combined steals and 6-foot-1 freshman center Josie Little had four first-half blocks before missing most of the second half due to foul trouble.
“Maria and Kaitlyn really add so much to us defensively and with Josie back there, we can amp up the pressure, knowing we have someone in the lane who can affect people shooting,” said St. Ignatius head coach Mike Mulkerrins. “Even if our offense isn’t there, we can always rely on our defense, and we can stay fresh because we have a deep bench and we can get kids in and out.”
The St. Ignatius bench also helped out on the offensive side, because other than Kemiji-McDonald’s game-high 15 points and 12 rebounds, no other SI starter scored in double figures, but 11 players scored.
The Lancers frustrated St. Ignatius (23-3) early in the game with a full-court pressure defense combined with a 2-3 zone if SI got past halfcourt, but the Wildcats found success in transition, before St. Francis could set up either of its defenses.
Kemiji-McDonald and Crawley had multiple coast-to-coast layups off defensive rebounds or steals that helped push the SI lead to 25-12 at the half and 41-18 after the third quarter.
“We didn’t want them to get set up in their press, because if you turn the corner, it’s a three-on-three or a four-on-three in the open court, and I’ll take my chances with Maria and Kaitlyn in the open court,”
With the St. Ignatius starters out for most of the fourth quarter, the Wildcats’ bench scored 12 points to end the game, led by five points in the final six minutes from freshman forward Brianna Beckman.
“In order to beat Mitty, we’re going to rely on a lot of kids off the bench and see who is ready for the game and not too frazzled,” Mulkerrins said. “They work so hard, and unfortunately, you can only get five kids on the court.”
The only St. Francis player to score in double figures was freshman guard Disha Abdelkader, who scored eight points in the final quarter to finish with 10. No other St. Francis player scored more than four points.
“That’s a good team over there and there’s a reason why they’re going to the championship,” saod St. Francis head coach Brian Harrigan. “They’re a better team and they showed it tonight. Maybe [we were] a little bit [cold], but they had a lot to do with it.”
Maria Kemiji-McDonald – 15
Kaitlyn Crawley – 9
Courtney Gong – 7
Stacey Ward – 6
Brianna Beckman – 5
Disha Abdelkader – 10
Lizzie Stelling – 4
Jenna Thompson – 4
Vanessa D’Amico – 3
Three players tied with 2 points