Girls basketball: Carmel Catholic wins, will play for 3A state title Saturday
NORMAL -- Carmel had one big advantage all season over the majority of its opponents -- height.
And that was a big factor again on Friday morning.
Carmel scored 20 of its first 21 points in the paint to cruise to a 51-24 win over Civic Memorial in a Class 3A state semifinal at Redbird Arena.
The Corsairs (27-7) seek their first state championship in program history on Saturday, playing East Suburban Catholic Conference rival and top-ranked Nazareth (33-2), which defeated downstate Morton 55-24 in the second semifinal Friday. Carmel lost twice to the Roadrunners in ESCC play this season, 57-41 on Dec. 8 and 58-47 on Feb. 5.
Saturday's title game will tip off at 5:30 p.m.
Carmel senior center Grace Sullivan, a Bucknell recruit, was the X-factor on both ends, finishing with 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting. The 6-foot-5 Sullivan pulled down 9 rebounds and blocked a pair of shots. Jordan Wood, a 6-5 junior guard, had a strong second half to end with 10 points and Ashley Schlabowske poured in 8 points, including scoring on back-to-back breakaway layups early in the first quarter.
Sullivan said the Corsairs' game plan was to pound the ball inside due to the Eagles' tallest starter standing at 5-foot-9.
"I knew coming into the game that they would be a little bit smaller, so we talked in practice the whole week that we need to pound the ball inside and be ready to get the ball inside," Sullivan said. "After that first quarter, when I got up a couple of shots off rebounds, I felt I could sit down here more and be ready for the guards to get it to me and even get some offensive and defensive rebounds in the process. It felt really good today to have that advantage down there. It doesn't happen a lot."
The Corsairs played a superb 32 minutes, finishing with 14 assists on 22 baskets and limiting the Eagles (32-5) to 4-of-26 shooting on 3-pointers. The Corsairs shot 22-for-40 the field, including just 2-for-6 on 3-pointers.
"Grace played outstanding, and I'm really proud of my girls and we're looking forward to (Saturday)," Carmel coach Ben Berg said.
The Eagles scored just 12 points in the second half, with leading scorer Olivia Durbin, who was averaging 14.7 points per game, held to 7 points for the game.
"We've never seen any team this tall before, and it did affect us," Durbin said.
Even with Wood playing just six-plus minutes in the first half due to picking up two early fouls, the Corsairs made their first two quarters playing in the state tournament a memorable debut. Sullivan was the driving force in Carmel leading 24-12, hitting 4 of her first 6 shots for eight points.
The Corsairs, who shot 1-for-3 on 3-pointers in the first half, bucked the growing trend of relying on 3-pointers, not hitting a 3-pointer until Anna Hartman's trey, off an assist from Abbey Sullivan, with 1:13 left until halftime.
Berg said he decided to sit Wood for an extended period, mainly because the rest of the team was playing at a high level.
"We had a little bit of a cushion, and we built it to 12 at halftime, so I didn't want Jordan picking up her third foul," Berg said. "You can't replace Jordan. But we still had a size advantage with Grace and Mia (Gillis). We were able to extend the lead, so I wanted to bring (Wood back fresh in the third quarter.
The undersized Eagles showed some moxie by attacking the offensive glass and playing aggressive despite Carmel's big size advantage in the early minutes. Even so, the Corsairs slowly started wearing down the Eagles, repeatedly dropping the ball inside to Wood and Grace Sullivan for high-percentage shots. The Corsairs broke open the game with an 12-0 run to start the third quarter, while the Eagles were mired in a shooting slump, missing 11 straight 3-pointers until Aubree Wallace hit a 3-pointer in the early seconds of the fourth quarter.
Wood and Grace Sullivan scored back-to-back buckets in the paint and Schlabowske added a layup to push the lead to 38-14. The Eagles' dismal third quarter included just 2 points, as they were 2-for-16 on 3-pointers through three quarters.
Without the aid of the 3-pointer and lacking the size to score inside the paint against Carmel's length and size, the Eagles were streamrolled in their first trip to state in program history. Wood, a Michigan State recruit, said she was motivated to play strong in the second half following her short stint in the opening half. The Corsairs outscored the Eagles 14-2 in the third quarter.
"Sitting that long, going out at the end of the first quarter, just watching my teammates, I really wanted to go back in, so once I got back in, I knew I had to make up for those minutes I lost due to fouls," Wood said.