March 1st, 2012

Assumption Wins Double-Overtime Thriller

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Assumption Wins Double-Overtime Thriller
photo by Paul Najjar

Foley, Kiesler lead Rockets comeback win  

Thirty-two minutes were not enough for the Sacred Heart Academy Valkyries and the Assumption High School Rockets to decide a winner in the semifinals of the Class Act 7th Region tournament. Thirty-six minutes wouldn’t do for this intense rivalry game either.

It took forty minutes, 2 overtime sessions and the steely resolve of an Assumption team finding their stride at the right time to prevail 59-57 and advance to the 7th Region finals.

The game featured the speedy, up-and-down play of the Valkyries against the tall, strong inside game deployed by the Rockets. Assumption survived a performance that saw them commit 26 turnovers against the relentless Sacred Heart pressure, but they made up for those mistakes by out-rebounding their guard-laden foes 44-29.

“We were down five in the first overtime and we scored twice to tie the game,” said a jubilant Assumption coach Steve Small. “The girls are growing up. Our goal was to play in the regional finals and now we’re there.”

It certainly wasn’t pretty getting there, especially early on. Sacred Heart pressured Assumption into 16 first half turnovers and used those to build a 22-17 halftime lead. The Valkyries extended that lead to 35-28 at the end of three quarters; the same 7 point lead that Assumption held at the end of three quarters in the regular season match-up between these age-old rivals that Sacred Heart came back to win.

Small’s message to his guards? “Get the ball up the floor!” he exclaimed. “Brandy (Hunter, junior guard) did a great job staying with it all night.”

One of those guards, senior Becca Durbin, had a sense something good was going to happen late in the game.

“We didn’t want to feel the way we felt after our last game with them,” explained Durbin. “We knew that we had to push through; we couldn’t give up. We couldn’t relax for one second. And Morgan (Foley) played her best at a crucial moment in the season.”

With senior forward Foley leading the way, the Rockets clawed back in the fourth quarter. She outscored the Valkyries 10-8 in the first five-plus minutes of the fourth to close the gap to just 43-38.

“We knew it wasn’t the seniors’ time to go out,” said Foley in the middle of the post-game celebration. “That was not going to be my last game. I had faith in this team and faith that we were going to back each other up and play our hardest. We all had a boost of energy (in the fourth quarter) and made it happen.”

A missed shot from SHA’s sophomore guard Raven Merriweather and again Assumption went to Foley for some offense. Instead, she found junior forward Katie Friedrich for a layup to cut the lead to 43-40. Junior guard Erin Mullen hit one of two free throws to bring the Rockets within two at 43-41 with 1:29 to go.

“They put Foley, their best athlete, on Raven (Merriweather), and that was a tough match-up,” said Sacred Heart head coach Donna Moir. “She kept Raven from doing some of things she wanted to do.”

After a missed Sacred Heart layup attempt, the Rockets hustled the ball down the court. Brandy Hunter missed a jump shot and a scramble for the ball ensued. Foley--who else?—grabbed it and flicked back out to Hunter behind the three point line where she drained the shot to give the Rockets their first lead with just 0:35 left.

And then the pressure cooker really started to heat up. SHA sophomore forward DaiJai Ruffin had two free throws with 0:28 on the clock to take the lead. She made the first to tie it, but missed the second.

Friedrich was up next for the Rockets. She had two free throws with 0:23 and missed them both.

Inexplicably, Ruffin was fouled with 5 seconds left and followed Friedrich’s lead with two more missed free throws. End of regulation.

Take a breath. There’s more. A lot more.

With both teams’ supporters in full voice the overtime action revealed some nerves from both sides as no one came close to making a basket until SHA senior guard Erica Walsh dented the scoreboard by making 1 of 2 free throws with 2:15 remaining. A Merriweather layup and two free throws from Ruffin gave SHA a seemingly insurmountable 49-44 lead with 1:28 to go.

Sacred Heart immediately applied pressure in the backcourt forcing Assumption to call a timeout. The Rockets worked the ball on the ensuing possession and Friedrich hit her only three pointer of the evening to cut the deficit to 49-47 with 0:58. Friedrich then stole the ball from Merriweather and found 6’6” freshman center Nora Kiesler for a layup to tie the game at the 0:18 mark.

But after all of those plays to help her team get back in the game, Friedrich was called for her fifth foul trying to rebound a Merriweather missed shot. That foul sent Walsh back to the line with 7 seconds left and a chance to give SHA another late lead, but she missed both attempts.

“There were a lot of nerves in the overtime (periods),” said Foley. “But with our fans going crazy, it gave us momentum. Our fans were great tonight.”

Double-overtime.

Ruffin, who led all scorers with 21 points, hit two free throws early in the second overtime to put SHA up 51-49. A Foley free throw followed by a bucket from Kiesler gave Assumption a 52-51 lead. The teams traded baskets and a free throw from SHA senior center Jazmin Smith tied the game at 54 with 0:35 remaining. Hunter followed with a runner down the right side and Mullen hit two free throws to give Assumption their biggest lead at 58-54 with 0:10 left.

Think it’s over? Think again.

Smith hit a 25 footer with 0:04 left to bring SHA within a point at 58-57. The Valkyries quickly fouled Foley on the inbounds play. Foley missed the first attempt, but made the second to give the Rockets a 59-57 lead with 0:02.4 left. The Valkyries called a timeout to design a last-second attempt at a basket.

Forget desperation, the play worked to perfection. Merriweather, with the 6’6” Kiesler obscuring her view on the inbounds pass, threw a perfect pass in stride to the sprinting Ruffin who collected the ball near the top of the key, took one dribble and put the ball up. But her speed and momentum was too much to handle and she clanged the ball hard off the backboard.

Game over. An epic between two rivals.

“You can throw out who’s got the better team in a rivalry game like this,” said Moir. “It’s just going to come down who makes the last play; it always does.”

Sacred Heart finished their season with a 19-13 record.

“We had a great look at the end,” said Moir. “We just ran one of our in-bounds plays against a press. It was wide open, but it was a tough break. Foley got hot in the fourth quarter, but they only shot 5-12 from the field in the first half to our 27 shots. But they hit a couple of shots when they had to. I’m just so proud of our seniors, Erica (Walsh), Jade (Tubb) and Jazmin (Smith).”

For Assumption, a date with No. 1 Manual looms Saturday evening for the 7th region championship at 8pm at Knights Hall.

“We know the future’s bright for us, but it’s nice to let these kids feel what it’s all about right now,” said Small amidst the shrieks and shouts of the Assumption student body. “We’ve got to go right back to work. The next game is the most important, though, and we’re already thinking about what we have to do to beat Manual.”

NOTES:

  • --SHA senior guard Jade Tubb was the only player to play all 40 minutes. She finished with 12 points and 3 assists. Merriweather netted 11 and had 7 rebounds to lead the Valkyries.
  • --Kiesler led the Rockets with 16 points and pulled down 12 rebounds while Foley finished with a double-double as well with 15 points and 10 boards.
  • --Assumption shot 16-27 (59 percent) from the line and Sacred Heart hit only 14-25 (56 percent) of their free throws.
  • --Both teams made 20 field goals with Assumption only needing 43 shots (46.5 percent), while Sacred Heart took 57 (35 percent).
 

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