The SCA Middle School Girls Varsity team faced off against the only team to defeat them this season, the Gilbert Christian Knights, in the VCSL semifinal on Saturday afternoon. As a rematch, everything seemed to be in SCA’s favor – playing on their home court, with well-rested starters and a clear and straight-forward game plan, in front of a packed house of fervent supporters, and the excited Eagles were raring to go at tip-off.
However, the pressure of the big game was obvious for the Eagles over the first seven minutes of the contest as they struggled to beat the Knights’ press, repeatedly trying to dribble out of the back-court rather than use the pass, and missing opportunities to hit the open teammate under the basket. Meanwhile the physicality of the Gilbert Christian team, one of the few teams to provide an even level of competition for SCA this season, put the Eagles off their game as well. The Knights built an eight-point lead with strong drives to the basket before Sedona Neussle (#32) finally broke the seal from the free throw line. Gilbert carried an eleven-point lead into the eleventh minute of the half before the strength of the Eagles’ inside game, including competing for position and powerful rebounding from Brooke Hancock (#22) and Trinity Sloan (#34) finally began to tell. The tide turned strongly in the favor of SCA as Brooke, Trinity and Baylee Tobin (#24) began to provide the breakaways and second chance baskets that the Eagles needed to pull their way back into the game. Over the final seven minutes of the first half the home team would outscore their visitors 11 to 2 behind a wall of fierce inside play that choked out the Knights’ offense, collapsed their defense into the lane to defend the SCA interior scoring, and provided opportunities for Lily Richardson (#21) to hit from three and Natalie Scherzer (#23) to knock down mid-range runners. Thus the Eagles went into the half down only a single, critical point.
The second half was a slug-fest of traded baskets, defensive stops, outstanding interior play, wild fouls, and contentious decisions as the supporters of both teams experienced the gamut of emotions from elation to despair. Ana Faustinos (#50) entered the game to bring calm to over-heated emotions, and the Eagles traded fouls, baskets, and stops.
Baylee Tobin’s uncanny ability to position herself for steals would be thwarted by an inability to hit the open teammate on the fast break; then a strong drive and score from Sedona Nuessle would be negated by a foul off the ball. Powerful rebounding from Trinity Sloan and excellent defense from Brooke Hancock would provide an extra possession, and then in the stress of the moment the possession would end with a long, low-percentage shot and a sprint back in desperation defense. Lily Richardson was particularly effective, calmly operating the SCA half-court offense in the midst of anxiety and going strongly to the basket both down the lane and along the baseline. It was all the excitement and competition that a sports fan could ask for or a player could hope to experience on court. In the end, however, the Eagles’ inexperience in competitive games against athletic opponents and inability to consistently knock down free throws counted just slightly more than their eagerness to compete, and the single, critical point deficit was enough – unable to score over the last five minutes, that one key point was the difference that pushed the Knights past them and into the finals on a last-second drive to score.
The Eagles were disappointed to depart the tournament in such a close match when all the advantages were theirs, but congratulations to them on a 10-2 season record and for demonstrating a range of half-court offenses over long stretches of game time over the calendar of games. We look forward to seeing them in action on the court again next year!