November 30th, 2011

Assumption Prevails Over Holy Cross 44-39

Chris Jung

Senior Writer

Assumption Prevails Over Holy Cross 44-39
photo by Chris Jung

Small wins in first game as coach behind Kiesler's big debut

With approximately six minutes to go in his team's season opener, Assumption High School head basketball coach Steve Small leaned toward the referee positioned in front of the Rockets' bench and asked, 'When is the media timeout?'.

Small, who was a women's basketball coach for 17 seasons at Western Kentucky University before stepping down in 2001, is back on the sideline after a near 10-year hiatus and returned in winning fashion by guiding Assumption to a 44-39 comeback win over Holy Cross on Tuesday night.

"Coming from the college level and the shot clock, and being out of the game ten years, it took a little getting used to. But nothing really changes," said Small. "It's the same game, the same ten-foot rim. But I started out coaching high school (basketball) and this is where the good Lord wants me to be, because I'm having a ball."

Despite 17 first-half turnovers and a deficit as large as nine points, Small's scrappy squad persevered and outscored the Cougars 12-4 in the fourth quarter to secure the season and home opener at Assumption High School.

The Rockets' 6'6" freshman Nora Kiesler, who was making her varsity basketball debut, had 10 points and scored the go-ahead bucket with 6:36 remaining in the game to put Assumption ahead 36-35. Kiesler also had six rebounds and two crucial blocked shots on defense down the stretch.

"She's going to be a big time basketball player," said Small of Kiesler. "Forget the size. She has a will to win. She talks on the floor and plays like a senior right now. She's coming off the floor telling her teammates, 'We can do this, we can do this.' And she's just a nice weapon to have because, if we use it right, it will open up our shooting and our high-low game."

Assumption senior Morgan Foley led all scorers with 14 points and knocked down four key free throws late in the game to help the Rockets maintain its lead - a feat Small was thrilled to see, mainly because of the effort his team put forth.

"We're going to be a really nice team in January or February, a really nice team. We have a lot of weapons," said Small. "But we lost Dee Dee (Sliter), our starting guard. We lost another player. And it's going to take some time. We don't have a pretty offense right now. But if you play hard like that, good things are going to happen."

"They're buying into the system, but if you lose a couple (games) the kids tend to leave you," Small continued. "So winning this, and coming back from nine down, that's just the way we need to win."

A confident Holy Cross team actually grasped control of the game in the second quarter behind the hot shooting of junior Sydney Morabito. Her four consecutive points put the Cougars ahead 15-14 and gave Holy Cross a lead it would not surrender until the fourth quarter.

And after a 25-21 halftime lead, Holy Cross surged to an eight-point lead behind back-to-back baskets from senior guard Kim Mingus. The Cougars' largest lead of the game came midway through the third quarter when senior center Julie Skaggs corralled an offensive rebound and laid in the putback to put Holy Cross ahead of Assumption 33-24.

But the Rockets hung tough at home, got a 3-pointer from Alyx Smith and then an old-fashioned three-point play from Annie Crotty that cut the Holy Cross lead to 33-30 late in the third period.

The Cougars led 35-32 heading into the final quarter of action, but that's when the freshman Kiesler took control.

Taking advantage of her size and height on the post, Kiesler - the younger sister of St. Xavier basketball junior Brock - easily nabbed a defensive rebound off a Morabito missed shot, ran the floor and scored on the other end to cut Assumption's deficit to 35-34. Less than two minutes later, Kiesler scored again on a turn around bank off the glass, giving the Rockets a lead it would keep for good.

"We got a little tired and (Assumption's) size had a lot to do with it too. It wore us down," said Holy Cross head coach Fred Copass. "But the kids played hard and had a chance to win. We just made too many turnovers. Twenty-one turnovers is just too many. And we did it in crucial times."

Holy Cross sophomore Josie Hockman got a good look at a three-point shot attempt that would have tied the game at 42-42, but the shot rimmed out, Foley grabbed the rebound and proceeded to knock down two free throws for a 44-39 Assumption lead.

Morabito, who led the Cougars in scoring with 11 points, fouled out of the game with less than three minutes remaining. Skaggs also had a nice night in the middle for Holy Cross, as the senior contributed 10 points and 8 rebounds. Mingus had eight points and only missed one shot from the field.

Tuesday's matchup with Assumption was the first of four challenging games for Holy Cross to start the season, a stretch of games that was designed purposefully by Copass to challenge the defending Sixth Region Tournament semifinalist Cougars - a team that has high expectations in 2011-12.

"I wanted to play some tough teams early. I thought that last year our schedule was maybe just a little too light," said Copass. "We've got (Christian Academy) Friday night, and then Bullitt Central and Pleasure Ridge (Park) - four tough teams coming up. But that's how you get better by playing the better teams."

For the victorious Rockets, Brandy Hunter (five points), Katie Friedrich (four points and five rebounds), White (four points) and Becca Durbin (four points) all played significant minutes.

Assumption (1-0)  is back in action Friday night when AHS hosts Notre Dame Academy at 7:30pm. It will be the season opener for the northern Kentucky Pandas.

Holy Cross (0-1) plays next at Christian Academy of Louisville (0-1) on Friday at 6pm. The Lady Centurions lost its season opener on Tuesday, 56-38, at South Oldham.


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