Nazareth blocks Montini's shot at tournament title

 
By Matt Le Cren
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 12/29/2018 11:38 PM
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  • Montini's Taylor Charles, left, and Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci go to the floor for a loose ball during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Taylor Charles, left, and Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci go to the floor for a loose ball during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Francesca Kokkines, right, tries to block a shot by Nazareth's Anne Stritzel during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Francesca Kokkines, right, tries to block a shot by Nazareth's Anne Stritzel during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini players clap their hands for Nazareth, who were 41-40 winners of the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini players clap their hands for Nazareth, who were 41-40 winners of the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Zoe MacKay Zacker reacts to her team's 41-40 loss to Nazareth during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Zoe MacKay Zacker reacts to her team's 41-40 loss to Nazareth during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Afton Tatiana Thomas, right, battles for a possession with Nazareth's Franchesca Metz during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Afton Tatiana Thomas, right, battles for a possession with Nazareth's Franchesca Metz during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Tatiana Thomas, left, goes to the basket againt Nazareth's Anne Stritzel during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Tatiana Thomas, left, goes to the basket againt Nazareth's Anne Stritzel during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Sydney Prochaska, left, and Tatiana Thomas, right, try to take the ball from Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Sydney Prochaska, left, and Tatiana Thomas, right, try to take the ball from Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Taylor Charles drives for a layup against Nazareth during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Taylor Charles drives for a layup against Nazareth during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Frankie Kokkines, left, drives for a basket in front of Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Frankie Kokkines, left, drives for a basket in front of Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

  • Montini's Sophie Sullivan, left, and Tatiana Thomas pressure Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci into a turnover during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday.

      Montini's Sophie Sullivan, left, and Tatiana Thomas pressure Nazareth's Jovanna Martinucci into a turnover during the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament Saturday. Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Montini freshman Angelina Giordano made a big play late in the championship game of the Montini Christmas Tournament.

But Nazareth senior Annie Stritzel made some even bigger plays later to lift her team to a 41-40 victory Saturday night.

Giordano sank a 3-pointer, her only basket of the game, from the right corner to give the host Broncos a 40-37 lead with 2:22 remaining.

"My coach (Jason Nichols) was telling me to shoot and I knew I had to shoot to bring us up because we were tied," Giordano said. "I knew I had nothing to lose. I knew I was open and I could take it and my coach wouldn't be mad because I was wide open."

Nichols was happy with that play, but not with what happened next. After the Harvard-bound Stritzel was held without a shot for the first 12 minutes of the second half, she scored her team's final 9 points, including a driving layup with 1:50 left, and blocked Montini's final shot at the buzzer.

Stritzel, the tournament MVP who finished with 19 points, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks, missed two free throws that would have put the Roadrunners (15-1) ahead with 53.7 seconds to go, but she stole the ball near midcourt.

After a timeout guard Jovanna Martinucci fired an entry pass into Stritzel, who turned a lone defender and drove for the go-ahead basket with eight seconds left.

"Fourth quarter, I started to get the ball high post and was attacking strong," Stritzel said. "I knew I had the ball in my hands to help my team and it worked.

"We started looking at it more later because they were (spread) so far wide that they were denying everything, so we weren't getting a lot of shots up. So we forced it in there. They swatted me a couple times, but I knew I had to keep going."

Stritzel's persistence was the mark of a great player, but Nichols was frustrated his team didn't double-team her at the end.

"We just had some girls that had some breakdowns defensively on what we were trying to do to take away Annie," Nichols said. "We did a great job, but we had breakdowns down the stretch, which is very disappointing."

The Broncos (17-2), whose only losses are to Nazareth, still had a shot to win. They beat a trap on the left side and got the ball to Sydney Prochaska, but her shot from 10 feet out was rejected by Stritzel.

"We just knew we needed to get a stop," Stritzel said. "After missing two free throws and coming back to hit that last shot, I was not letting them get a layup.

"I jumped at her and just went for it and I felt the ball against my hands and that was it."

Stritzel's effort allowed the Roadrunners to win the prestigious tournament for the first time and overcome a great performance from another Montini freshman.

Forward Tatiana Thomas led all players with 21 points and 13 rebounds

"The kid is incredible," Nichols said. "She's a great player.

"She's strong, she affects the game in so many ways and she knows it. She knows she's got a lot of work to do, but (it is) pretty interesting to have a freshman like that dominating in a championship game against an elite team."

Indeed, the Broncos acquitted themselves well in nearly winning the title despite playing four freshmen, two of them starters, and a sophomore.

"I know we just have to keep working hard and keep pushing through," Giordano said. "It could have gone either way, but unfortunately it didn't go ours."

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