Montini falls to Nazareth at tourney

 
By Bobby Narang
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/17/2018 10:58 AM
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Montini senior guard Zoe Mackay Zacker tumbled hard to the floor early in the first quarter during Friday's game against Nazareth.

After enduring with three season-ending knee injuries that limited her to 21 games in her first three varsity seasons, Mackay Zacker quickly dispelled any fears of another injury by quickly rising and running down the court.

Mackay Zacker was one of many Montini bright spots in Friday's championship game of the fourth annual Bill Knox Memorial Thanksgiving Tournament at Harvest Christian. Mackay Zacker scored a team-high 13 points in a 47-40 loss to Nazareth.

Nazareth senior guard Annie Stritzel led all scorers with 28 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals.

The 5-foot-10 Mackay Zacker led the Broncos (2-1) in scoring for the first time. A high-profile player as a freshman, Mackay Zacker played in 10 games in each of her first two years until injuring her knee. Ten seconds into her junior season, she suffered a third season-ending knee injury.

"It's pretty awesome," Mackay Zacker said, smiling.

Mackay Zacker added 4 rebounds and 2 steals and even took two charges, showing nary a concern about the possibility of another serious injury with her physical play.

"I realize after all this, what do I have to lose?" she said. "I come in here, people can say she's only played so many games, been out for so long and she doesn't know the game, but all the time I've been sitting down with Coach, scouting games for him. … It's given me an IQ like I've been on the court.

"This is my last chance. I know that I will make it my best one. I won't look back when I go to college and say, 'Did I play my hardest my senior year or was I scared the whole time.'"

Mackay Zacker, though, suffered through another range of emotions when senior point guard Sam Mitchell injured her left knee with just over four minutes left in the opening quarter. Mitchell, a UAB recruit, did not return.

"The first thing I did was I stood up and went right to the scorer's table and got a better view," Mackay Zacker said. "I was two seconds from sprinting onto the court and talking to her, but I knew that medical help was there. … It scared me. I was on the verge of tears. She's one of my best friends and one of the hardest workers I know."

Without Mitchell leading the offense or helping on defense, the Broncos were forced to play five underclassmen, including four freshmen, for the majority of the game. Freshman forward Tatiana Thomas played solid defense, finishing with 4 points and 9 rebounds. Freshman reserve guard Sophia Sullivan stepped up in Mitchell's absence to finish with 5 points, hitting a key 3-pointer in the fourth.

In a matchup of two teams with aspirations of raising a state trophy at Redbird Arena in early March, the Broncos and Roadrunners were locked in a physical battle that featured countless players falling to the floor, a combined 36 points in the first half and a game-turning 10-0 run by Nazareth (3-0) early in the fourth quarter.

The Broncos entered the game with an average winning margin of 66.5 points in their first two wins but struggled stopping Stritzel in the second half.

"We both wanted it really bad, so it was very physical game," Stritzel said. "Their freshmen were long and very good. I wasn't used to that. They blocked me a couple of times, but I figured it out. Montini's a great team and they really challenged us."

Montini coach Jason Nichols credited his players for overcoming the emotions of losing Mitchell and bouncing back to battle the Roadrunners.

"I'm very happy with how hard we played considering how young we are," he said. "We battled against an elite player in Annie Stritzel. You would think I would be mad, but I'm excited."

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