By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The St. Paul Catholic High School girls basketball squad picked the worst time to have an off game and in Class M tournament action, in a one-and-done environment, the Falcons’ playoff run came to a crashing halt on Thursday, March 3.
No. 3 St. Paul gave it a run but poor shooting and turnovers doomed the home squad as No. 14 Immaculate – defeating the Falcons for the second season in the row during state tournament play as the Mustangs rang up a 49-40 victory from the Maltby Street Gymnasium in Bristol.
The win propelled Immaculate (16-7) to the quarterfinal round and a road date with No. 11 Notre Dame Fairfield, played this past Monday.
The Falcons ended the campaign with a sterling 21-3 ledger but did just enough to make a game of it and was seemingly on the cusp during each and every quarter to turn the showdown around.
St. Paul committed 23 turnovers overall in the contest – ten of which came over the first period of play – and the tone of the game was set.
“In the first quarter, [we] turned the ball over (a lot),” said St. Paul coach Joe Mone. “Honestly, they came out more aggressive in that first quarter than we did. That was the game, the first quarter. We buried ourselves there.”
And in terms of giving away the game late, Immaculate tried to comply in almost every way to give the Falcons a shot in this one.
The Mustangs scored only eight points over the final eight minutes as the St. Paul defense forced turnovers and rushed field goal attempts.
At one point, Immaculate misfired on 12 straight free throws and 14 of 15 overall before making consecutive foul shots late in the affair to ice the thing.
Finally, the visitors let the home squad attack the hoop in the paint but when lay-ups refused to fall, a longer night became even longer.
Taylor Guth notched a team best 16 points to lead the visitors, McKinsey Jarbe had 11, while Marcella Dailey zipped in 10 to lead a balanced scoring attack.
St. Paul senior Lizzy Cretella ended her outstanding career for the Falcons and finished up with a game high of 19 points with five rebounds and nearly half a dozen steals.
Senior Brigid Johndrow came in next with nine points, seven rebounds with several steals while her half-court shot at the buzzer to end the first half could have jumpstarted the squad to open the third period but, in the end, did not.
Lizzy Ferraro took some high percentage shots but an imaginary lid on the hoop refused to let those attempts drop in.
She ended her scholastic career with four point, six rebounds and a couple of assists while fellow senior Emily Sklenka netted two points and five rebounds.
Also, seniors Stephanie Speaker (two points) and Lauren Palmer (two points) played in their final contest for the Falcons.
St. Paul – maneuvering through all those turnovers in the first period of play – shot 50 percent over the first eight minutes of action but soon after, that shooting rate fell off a cliff.
The home team ended up making just 8-of-38 field goals the rest of the way, equating into a 21 percent shooting clip.
“What did we shoot, about 15 percent from the floor? We couldn’t make a basket to save our lives,” said Mone. “It was just very bad all around. It’s a shame because they’re a really good team and we’re a really good team that played really bad. And unfortunately, as I explained to them, this time of year, one bad night and you’re done. Would’ve, could’ve, you know, should’ve…it’s over with. You can’t play that way and expect to win especially moving on in this tournament, you play better teams as you move along, you’ve got to play good games every time [you] play.”
However, off all the miscues, the missed lay-ups and an efficient Immaculate shooting attack (19-of-39, 48.7 percent), the Falcons were still just one productive run away from taking control of the game.
Credit belonged to Immaculate’s outstanding defense, trapping the St. Paul shooters all over the court as the Falcons found precious few seams to penetrate through and attack.
“I give them credit. Obviously [Immaculate] came out aggressive and ready to go,” said Mone. “It looked like we came out and we were just going to waltz through this and, unfortunately, it cost us.”
And St. Paul did make runs throughout the contest but most of the jaunts were littered with empty possessions as the home team never led in the showdown.
But even as the Mustangs nabbed a 16-point first quarter edge, the Falcons battled back, making it a two-possession game midway through the second period and hung in it throughout the evening.
However, the hole was too deep to dig out of as St. Paul could never catch up in the end.
Ten first period turnovers led to several points in the paint and when Immaculate started going outside, Daley and Caroline Wax (six points) hit threes over a 14-2 game opening run and with 3:49 to go in the frame, the Falcons were trailing by 12.
“[Immaculate] looked like they came playing to win, we looked like we came just to play,” said Mone. “And I don’t think that was the way to go.
A jumper from Guth propelled the visitors to a 20-4 edge with 1:12 left in the first but off a period closing 8-2 push by the Falcons – highlighted by a Ferraro three and a conventional three-point play from Cretella – it closed the deficit to 22-12 at the conclusion of the first period.
From that point, the Falcons played even with the Mustangs the rest of the way but that go-ahead run by St. Paul never materialized.
The Falcons made in a single-digit contest midway through the second period when Brigid Johndrow canned five straight points – including two consecutive free throws with 3:31 remaining before the half – as St. Paul chopped the deficit to 25-19.
That was as close as the home squad would get to the lead as the visitors remained poised and continued to attack offensively.
The Mustangs went on a 7-0 run to make it a double-digit game again but when Johndrow flipped in a long bomb from just outside the half-court line, the deficit was dropped to 32-22 to begin intermission.
Cretella hit a jumper to open the third tilt but two Immaculate hoops later, the deficit was 12 again at 36-24 with 5:40 to go.
Turnovers and missed opportunities limited the Falcons to just seven third period points and when Amelia Sanchez (two points, seven rebounds) hit two charity tosses, it concluded the scoring in the frame with the Mustangs leading 41-29 with one quarter to go.
“I can’t pick any aspect of basketball that we did well,” said Mone. “We didn’t shoot well, obviously, we didn’t defend well, rebounding [was] not horrible but as far as like turnovers, all that, we just played a totally bad game at the wrong time.”
St. Paul cut it to nine again early in the frame but when Guth hit her third of three consecutive Immaculate points, the road team was in control by a 47-36 push with 3:03 left in the game.
However, the home team played the foul game and over a period of 1:40, the Mustangs missed seven consecutive free throws but St. Paul misfired on shots – inside and out – and with 1:05 to play, the Falcons were still trailing 47-38.
And the home squad couldn’t dent the lead any further as Palmer ended the game with a bank-shot as St. Paul dropped a tough 49-40 decision to close the season at 21-3.
“It’s a shame because it’s a good group of kids,” said Mone. “They play hard all year. Twenty-one wins, whatever it is, it’s a great year. Unfortunately, it leaves a bad taste in their mouths knowing [it ended] this way.”
“I think if we would have played well and lost, everybody could live with that.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
PHOTOS by TAMMI NAUDUS