Girls Basketball: St. Ignatius’ defense locks down St. Francis in WCAL semifinals

St. Ignatius senior guard Maria Kemiji-McDonald drives past a St. Francis defender on Thursday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Eric Luis)

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.

St. Ignatius senior guard Kaitlyn Crawley goes up for a jump shot against St. Francis on Thursday at St. Ignatius Prep. (Photo by Eric Luis)

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,”
Mulkerrins said.

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.”

Scoring Summary

St. Ignatius
Maria Kemiji-McDonald – 15
Kaitlyn Crawley – 9
Courtney Gong – 7
Stacey Ward – 6
Brianna Beckman – 5

St. Francis
Disha Abdelkader – 10
Lizzie Stelling – 4
Jenna Thompson – 4
Vanessa D’Amico – 3
Three players tied with 2 points

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  1. GCJ 01 says:

    I’m going on record and taking SI in the championship game. They have the skills to beat Mitty and I believe they will step their game up against them. Good luck SI.

  2. SI Sports Radio says:

    Listen to the girls WCAL basketball tournament championship game live on SI Sports Radio on Saturday, Feb 18 at 550pm. It’s a match up of the two regular season WCAL Co Champions, SI and Mitty. Listen with your computer, smart phone, iPad, iPod Touch, or if you are at the game, with a smart bug radio inside Foothill College’s gym.

    Click on the link:

    or type: into your browser.

  3. JJ says:

    The 2 photos in this article truly display the qualities of the MJ and Pippen of the WCAL (girls basketball). In the 1st picture, MJ was known as a fierce competitor and the face of MKM truly shows her will and determination to get the job done. In the 2nd photo, Pippen was known for his calming influence and smoothness, nothing more describes this than the picture of KC gracefully leaping and releasing the ball into the air as the fans wait for the ball to drop into the basket. What a great 1-2 punch for the Cats to have. Great season so far, but the season is far from over.

  4. JustSayin says:

    Good job SI, best of luck in the post season, nice to see an SF WCAL team make it against Mitty, SH folded as expected. SI should be set for the next couple of years and as long as SH has the current coaching staff they are no threat to anyone, even with good players.

    • JJ says:

      I think that’s rude to say that SHC folded. To me, they looked like a team that never quit. SHC’s coach knows what he’s doing; they just don’t have the height to compete with the top-notch clubs of the WCAL. They have a nice young core, but I doubt they will challenge SI for the next 3 years unless Diana Taurasi, Jr. arrives on Ellis Street next year.

      • Scott says:

        SHC might have been a different team if some players on the JV team were on it. The SHC Jv team has more height. There was lots of controversy I hear about the varsity team selections this year, but Im sure that happens every year, but a little more than usual. But if you follow SHC girls’ basketball in the last decade, they never really had tall players, not one IRISH player was over 6′ ft tall ever. .They always have done it with speed and grit. I will say that SI has a very large team for girls basketball, it is much bigger than any SI or SH girls team so SH does need to balance some of that speed with body mass in the future, if they want to win.

      • Go Cats! says:

        I agree that saying SH folded is unnecessary and they always kept fighting, so kudos to them. However, you can’t completely use height as an excuse. Look at last year’s SI girls’ varsity basketball team. They didn’t have any real post. Good job to SHC for finishing third! I am sure they will find great success in CCS. And great job to SI! I am proud of all the city ladies.

        • JJ says:

          SI didn’t have a post last year, that’s why SHC beat them in the CCS championship game. This year’s SI team seems built for a good championship run, because their team really doesn’t have too many weaknesses. However, if MKM has a bad game, they can be upset.

  5. basketball fan says:

    I agree with Go Cats and JJ that saying SHCP folded is unnecessary. They are always in the game – also, Scott the selection for the team was as it should be – let’s look at chemistry too. The JVs might have height and whatever else you might think they could bring to the varsity, but the team dynamics (team play) was awful. I love SHCP basketball but stopped going to watch the JVs because of their selfish play. I am looking forward to CCS and wish all of our WCAL teams the best. GO IRISH!

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