Nazareth stymies Carmel in rematch of last year's 3A state title game
Nazareth junior forward Danielle Scully wanted to create some new memories against Carmel on Wednesday night.
The last time Scully -- and many of her teammates -- played the Corsairs turned out to be a lasting image that will forever haunt the Roadrunners. The Corsairs narrowly defeated the Roadrunners in the Class 3A state championship game last season.
"I still have the memory of the last second with the (final) buzzer going off, then the lights flashing and seeing them pile on top of each other," Scully said. "That defeat was tough."
Nazareth junior forward Olivia Austin had the similar feeling.
"During that (title) game, the emotions were high, but postgame the loss really sank in," Austin said.
The Roadrunners got a small measure of revenge in the rematch of the top two teams in Class 3A last season. Nazareth held the Corsairs scoreless over the last 10-plus minutes for a 35-16 victory in East Suburban Catholic Conference play in LaGrange Park.
Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel has experienced many big moments in his illustrious coaching career, but he acknowledged he was stunned by his team's defensive play against an elite opponent. Nazareth entered the game ranked No. 1 in the current AP Poll, with Carmel No. 2
"Both teams know each other so well, and Carmel's size is hard to play against," Stritzel said. "It wasn't a 19-point win. The game was closer than that. We wanted to win this game. To hold a team like Carmel to 16 points is amazing. I'm so proud of the girls. We got some big steals. This is a great win for the program. Our future is bright."
The regular conference clash was nothing like the state title game, which the Corsairs won 43-39. Both teams had trouble scoring -- 23 combined points at halftime -- and the game featured numerous turnovers, no rhythm or flow and some tentative play on both sides. But the defense, especially by the Roadrunners, was stellar.
Getting an open shot was a rarity, with both teams contesting nearly every shot. Nazareth (7-1, 1-0) had a balanced attack, led by Austin (8 points) while Amalia Dray added 7 points and 5 steals and Gracie Carstensen had 7 points. Jordan Wood, a Michigan State signee, paced Carmel (7-2, 0-1) with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
"We worked hard and defended well, but we have to take care of the ball better," Carmel coach Ben Berg said. "We showed toughness, but we have to play better. I saw some really good things tonight. It just got away from us at the end. We have to do a few things better on offense."
The turning point in the game occurred late in the third quarter, when Wood was gliding in for an easy breakaway layup that would've handed the Corsairs an 18-17 lead. The referee called an offensive foul on the Corsairs for pushing, negating the basket. From there, the Roadrunners closed out the game with an 18-0 run that started with a 24-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key by Carstensen.
Freshman Stella Sakalas sparked the Roadrunners with the final six points of the game.
"We pulled each other up, and even though we weren't scoring, we pulled it together on defense," Scully said. "We're building for the end of the season."
Austin played strong on both ends, helping provide solid defense and showing toughness in the post.
"Our defense was key, and our communication was high," Austin said. "We made where every player was during the game."