The Crusaders were tested on Thursday night, but came through with another impressive performance, defeating visiting Notre Dame by a score of 55-41 in their Division-V NorCal quarterfinal.
The game was a lot closer than the final score would suggest, with the home team pulling away late, mostly on the strength of some clutch free-throw shooting.
“I’m very proud of my girls for playing with composure in the second half, and showing resilience and toughness all game long,” St. Bernard’s head coach Mark Gardner said.
Despite being the road team, it was the visitors who looked the sharper from the get-go, opening up a 10-2 lead midway through the opening quarter.
Some uncharacteristic turnovers and poor shooting were costly for the Crusaders early on, and if it wasn’t for some tenacious defense and some timely takeaways, the deficit would have been bigger.
But the St. Bernard’s girls began to settle down and outscored the Spirits 12-2 to close out the quarter, capped by a late flurry.
In the final seconds, Mackenzie Finck completed a four-point play, nailing a 3-pointer as she was fouled, as well as the ensuing free throw.
After a very quick turnover, Maddie Costa was then fouled as she attempted a buzzer-beating 3-pointer from mid court, and made all three attempts to give her team a 12-10 advantage, their first lead of the game.
A lot of pressure
The Crusaders stretched the lead to as many as five on a Jasa Sisemore 3-pointer midway through the second quarter, before the Spirits battled back to take a slender 24-23 lead into the break.
“Notre Dame is a really good team,” Gardner said. “They play a lot of pressure and they have a lot of shooters, and they gave us everything we wanted.”
The second half, however, belonged to the Crusaders, who gradually took control of the clash.
They held a two-point advantage after three quarters and outscored the visitors 18-6 in the final period to seal the hard-fought win.
Emily Gardner was kept busy in the paint all night, but turned in another strong performance, leading St. Bernard’s with 16 points.
The inspirational Costa, who again stepped up big at both ends of the court, added 12 points, while the ever-dangerous Sisemore finished with nine.
Junior Josie Peterson also had a strong outing, finishing with seven points and setting the tempo early in a physical contest.
Another junior, Marayah Tomlinson, gave the Crusaders a much-needed lift off the bench early in the game when they were struggling to find their rhythm.
The No. 1 seeds will now turn their attention to Saturday’s NorCal semifinal, when they will host No. 4 Cloverdale for the second straight weekend.
Last Saturday, the Crusaders defeated the Eagles 56-36 in the North Coast Section championship.
Cloverdale defeated Rincon Valley Christian 44-41 on Thursday.
The Crusaders are now 25-6 on the season, giving them their most wins in a single season in at least a decade.
St. Bernard’s is now the last local team still playing in the NorCals.
Ray Hamill writes at humboldtsports.com, where you can read lots more about sports in Humboldt County.