St. Francis Blue Crowned Fourth Grade Diocesan Champs
In what will go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of heart and tenacity in St. Francis CYO history, the St. Francis de Sales fourth grade girls fought their way back for a nail biting 14-12 overtime win over arch rival Our Lady of Hope in the fourth grade girl’s championship on February 21. That was just one day after they hung on to a two point victory over St. Mel’s in the semi finals at St. John’s Prep.
Before championship weekend even started, the girls from St. Francis had much going against them. They knew they had their backs to the wall as they would be without two of their team mates. Rebecca Boland was unable to play due to illness, and the sharp shooting Breanne McDonnell had her vacation plans altered due to the recent lizzard, thus making her unavailable for either game. Undeter-red, the girls entered the weekend with high hopes and expectations.
The semi final game against St. Mel’s was a tight one all the way through. The scoring was started by Carly Mc- Cann, with a nice turnaround jump shot from the low post. At the end of the third quarter St. Francis found themselves down 11-9. But they never quit.
Grace DeCrescenzo scored four of her team high six points in the fourth quarter, while going 2-2 from the foul line. Kelly Ward took charge of the offense and Hannah Nicholson was a dominant force on defense as well as offense. She connected on a put back in the fourth quarter and finished with four points, all in the second half. Katie Barrett kept the St. Mel’s guards confused with her aggressive defense. Starting at the forward position, Taylor Slackman guarded her spot perfectly and held St. Mel’s at bay under the boards. Meghan Duffy provided some offensive spark with her bursts from the corner. As always, Kaleigh Gilroy had a positive impact on the game, as she played flawlessly. The team earned a 15-13 victory, and a rematch with the waiting Our Lady of Hope, who they had lost to by the score of 10-4 during the regular season.
But the girls had come so far and earned the reputation as the “Cardiac Kids” for their many come from behind victories. Coaches Kevin Barrett and Kris Mc-Cann had the girls peaking at the right time, as they were riding a ten game winning streak entering Sunday’s match up.
The St. John’s gym is a huge one, but the girls had some experience from playing there the day before. The game strategy was clear. St. Francis would forgo their usual half court press defense. The coaches decided to keep a tight triangle under the basket with McCann, DeCrescenzo and Nich-olson policing the paint. Barrett and Ward would have to handle the entire perimeter of the court.
In the second quarter, Hope scored two more baskets on some bad passes from St. Francis and turned them into four easy points. At the end of the first half, the underdogs found themselves down 9-4.
On most days, this deficit would have been too much to overcome against a team like Hope. But around half time, the St. John’s gym started to become a home game for St. Francis. The fifth grade girls and their families started filling the stands as they would be playing in the next game. By the start of the second half, St. Francis had twice as many fans there as Hope. This would prove to be all the inspiration they needed.
McCann played the toughest game of her career and was relentless byconverting on a put back with two Hope defenders on her for the bucket. At the end of the third quarter, Hope’s lead was now 11-8.
Who would have thought that when the fourth quarter started, there would be no more baskets scored? This game would come down to defense and free throws. The two teams exchanged free throws (one by Ward) in the first 4 and half minutes of the quarter and Hope had a 12-9 lead with 1:20 to go in the game. The gym was rocking from the St. Francis fans and the Hope coach called a timeout with the ball in the St. Francis end of the court. During the timeout, Coach Barrett had one message for his team “Steal the Ball!”
The girls went into a man-to-man defense to try and deny the inbound pass, but Hope was able to get it into their star player. The player dribbled to the right and she tried to throw back across the court and that proved to be the turning point of the game. Barrett jumped out and lunged for the ball at just the right time and knocked it ahead. She picked it up, took a dribble and found the streaking DeCrescenzo down the side of the court who was fouled sending her to the line. DeCrescenzo hit the two free throws to make it 12-11.
St. Francis went into their full court press and played relentlessly. However, Ward picked up her fourth foul with 23 seconds left in the game with the team still down one. Now St. Francis was also in the free throw penalty. But Hope missed the front end of the one and one. DeCrescenzo once again found herself with the ball and raced down the court only to be fouled one more time. She converted one of the two free throws to tie the game at 12 and send it into overtime. Barrett and DeCrescenzo worked the ball down the court and found McCann who was fouled by her defender. McCann took a deep breath and calmly hit one of the two free throws to give St. Francis their first lead since early in the first quarter. Nicholson grabbed an offensive rebound and was fouled in the process. She drilled the second free throw to give St. Francis a 14-12 lead. With the seconds winding down and the St. Francis fans going nuts, the girls stood tall and dribbled out the clock. The final score was St. Francis 14, Hope 12.
It was truly a team victory.