Nazareth 'D' overwhelms Carmel again to capture ESCC Tournament title

Updated 2/4/2023 9:42 PM

Amalia Dray and Nazareth teammate Grace Carstensen trapped a Carmel ballhandler all the way to the end line in her backcourt, and all that saved her was a 10-second call.

There is indeed little room against the Roadrunners' defense.


Nazareth's matchup zone makes for an uncomfortable day. The Roadrunners seem to push teams further and further away from the basket with their length and constant activity. It often seems like Nazareth is on offense playing defense, and leads to its own offense.

For the second time this season, Carmel had no answer for it, as Class 3A No. 1-ranked Nazareth rolled to a 48-24 win over the fifth-ranked Corsairs in Saturday's championship game of the East Suburban Catholic Conference tournament.

Nazareth (25-1), regular-season and conference tournament champs for the second time, remained unbeaten against in-state opponents, with two one-sided wins over a Carmel team that beat the Roadrunners in last year's Class 3A final.

"Obviously playing Carmel is always a big game because of our past, and winning the regular season title and conference tournament championship is a big deal," said Dray, a junior guard, who had a game-high 11 points and four of Nazareth's 12 steals. "We wanted to seal the deal. That was our first goal. We want to not stop here."

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Nazareth has allowed just two of its last 11 opponents to reach 40 points, and allowed a total of 40 points in two wins over Carmel this season. The Corsairs (21-6) shot 9-for-25, and almost had as many turnovers (21) as shot attempts.

Dray's baseline drive and steal and score, sandwiched around a Danielle Scully 3-pointer, gave Nazareth its first double-digit lead of 15-4 two minutes into the second quarter that ballooned to 25-9 by halftime.

Carmel cut the deficit to 12 late in the third quarter, but two driving scores by Nazareth freshman Stella Sakalas sandwiched around two scores by Olivia Austin (seven points, five rebounds) got the margin back to 20.

"Our zone for sure speeds teams up which is unlike other teams," Dray said. "Normally teams go into zones to slow teams down. We use it and it keeps us going fast and we have so many different ones so we can switch things up and keep teams on their toes. We were ready coming into this game, we wanted to not let them get anything."


Veteran Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel has seen a lot, but he hasn't seen many teams embrace defense like this one. The Roadrunners held Carmel star Jordan Wood, a Michigan State recruit, to two points on 1-for-7 shooting, although Wood did also have nine rebounds and five blocks.

"The kids, they just love playing defense. It's a unique group," Stritzel said. "Most people like playing offense but the kids are in such sync defensively, and our bench is getting better. June Foley is coming into her own."

Foley indeed provided a spark for Nazareth Saturday.

After Mary Bridget Wilson went to the bench with two fouls, Foley stepped up with two 3-pointers in the second quarter, and the junior guard finished with three 3s for nine points.

"When I come in I'm looking to shoot," Foley said. "Today coach told me to shoot and look for my shot and be aggressive. Once that first one goes down, your confidence just keeps building."

Carmel came in off a high, knocking off Benet by one on Wood's free throws in the final seconds. But the Corsairs seemed tentative in solving Nazareth's matchup throughout, and endured a six-minute scoreless drought in the first half as the Roadrunners' lead extended to double figures.

Carmel coach Ben Berg attributed much of the struggles to his opponent. Wood intentionally played more facilitator throughout, remaining on the perimeter to try to see the floor better over the defense with her 6-foot-5 frame. But it limited her shot attempts. Kyla Smith led the Corsairs with eight points.

"They're phenomenal in what they do, and it's unique compared to anybody we play against," Berg said. "As I've told people, the first time you play them it's like going to the dentist for the first time. It's not fun. We learned a couple things in the second half. Unfortunately we dug ourselves too big of a hole. Hopefully we see them down the road. We have some work to do offensively."

Indeed, the two teams could potentially face each other again in a state championship game in four weeks. Carmel last year lost to Nazareth twice by double figures in last year's regular season before winning the 3A final, history Stritzel jokingly noted to Berg he'd rather not repeat.

"We have more goals. We don't know if we're going to hit them, but we're going to enjoy every second of it," Stritzel said. "Love this group."

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