Deerfield ousts defending state champ Carmel
Deerfield stuck to the plan on Thursday night.
The Warriors like to run, and run a lot. The faster the pace, the better.
They certainly don't like to hold the ball, even though they have a trio of next-level guards.
Also, under second-year coach Nicole Keith, the Warriors have stayed true to their roots at halftime.
A former track athlete at Michigan, Keith prefers to utilize an outside-the-box coaching philosophy, not calling many timeouts or spending halftime in the locker room.
Instead of leaving the court, the Warriors spend the majority of halftime in a colorful mood -- smiling, hoisting up shots and talking to each other.
In short, Keith's built a tough team where nothing fazes them -- not even the defending Class 3A state champions, Carmel, and its star player, Michigan State recruit Jordan Wood.
"We're a very mature team for being young," Deerfield sophomore star guard Nikki Kerstein said. "Our team is very good at when it's time to be serious and the game is on the line and other teams are panicking, we take control and are calm and focused."
The Warriors' resolve was evident against No.1 seed Carmel.
The second-seeded Warriors led wire-to-wire, surviving a late scare to pull out a 49-39 victory over the Corsairs in the Class 3A Deerfield Sectional championship game.
Deerfield senior guard Lexi Kerstein sparked the offense with 7 of her team-high 17 points in the first quarter. Her sister, Nikki Kerstein, supplied the long-range shooting with 3 3-pointers for 15 points, including 10 in the first quarter. Sophomore guard Aubrey Galvan chipped in with 13 points and 6 steals, helping stave off Carmel's late push with 8 fourth-quarter points.
The Warriors (28-5) won their first sectional title in program history, advancing to play Montini in the Dundee-Crown Supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday.
Keith said her players have forged a toughness, aided by a regular season schedule full of ranked opponents, to handle intense situations, such as Thursday's game when Carmel cut the deficit to 35-32 early in the fourth quarter.
"I couldn't be more proud of them," Keith said. "They had a coaching change two years ago, which is significant. I coach them different. I ask a lot of them, and I changed our practices to longer practices. They now have confidence and believe in what we're doing."
The Corsairs (24-9) trailed the whole game but behind Wood mounted a comeback to make it a one-possession game. Even with Mia Gillis, a UW-Whitewater recruit back from an left-hand injury that sidelined her for the past five games, the Corsairs couldn't cut the deficit any lower mainly due to fatigue and Deerfield's outstanding trio of guards taking over the final six-plus minutes.
The 6-foot-5 Wood, a four-year starter and all-time leading scorer in program history, left a memorable mark at Carmel. She hit a pair of 3s, scored 19 points and added 19 rebounds and 3 assists in a stellar performance to close out her illustrious career. Junior guard Ashley Schlabowske had 12 points.
"I'm sad because I'm closing this chapter with my teammates," Wood said. "If I was going to go out, I wanted to give it my all and not regret anything,"
After scoring the first 10 points of the game, the Warriors maintained a breakneck pace to outlast the Corsairs and avenge last season's sectional championship game defeat.
The Kerstein sisters sister set the tone by combining for 17 of the Warriors' 19 first-quarter points. Lexi Kerstein, a Vermont recruit, scored 9 points in the first half to stake the hosts to a 26-16 lead.
Lexi Kerstein, also a four-year starter, said she cherished winning her final game on her home court, plus knocking out the Corsairs.
"This feels amazing, and I can't wait until Monday," Lexi Kerstein said. "We played really well at the start of the game, and everybody contributed."
Galvan, who has nine scholarship offers, saved the Warriors by drilling a top-of-the-key 3-pointer to pad the lead to 38-32 with 4:52 left. Galvan sealed the win with 3 free throws in the final 66 seconds.
"I'm really happy about the win, especially after they made the game really close," Galvan said. "That really challenged our team, just to see if we could make it back. I knew we needed that three-pointer, and was just relieved to hit it."