It would have been difficult to script an opening quarter to go worse for St. Anne’s-Belfield, or better for visiting Trinity Episcopal, in Thursday’s League of Independent Schools championship game. But then the first five minutes of the third quarter happened, and a seven-point deficit turned into a nine-point lead.
The Saints cruised from there to a 57-44 victory, claiming the season’s rubber match with the Titans, and with it, yet another league title.
“We probably played the worst half in the last 15 games, and we were only down seven,” said STAB coach Phil Stinnie of his halftime message. “We hadn’t started our scrambling, pressing defense yet, so we were going to come out, throw it out there and see what happened.”
Junior guard Angel Burgos was hot out of the gate for the Titans’ offense, posting the squad’s first eight points. On the other end, Trinity’s 2-3 zone confounded the Saints’ half-court offense, allowing just a single field goal in the first eight minutes.
“It was exactly what we wanted to do in the first quarter,” said Trinity Episcopal coach Adam Lonon, as the Titans held a 13-5 lead. “In the second and third quarter, they didn’t get much more against that zone, but they scored on our silly turnovers and missed shots. We didn’t get back, so it wasn’t the zone messing up, but our complacency on offense.”
STAB dialed up the tempo in the second quarter and found some success inside with forwards Vanessa Woodfolk and Sierra Smith, who combined for 10 of the team’s 12 points. The Saints also entered the bonus at the 4:23 mark as a pair of free throws from Scottie Hull closed the margin to one. However, Burgos and senior guard Jaelyn Harris drained a couple of treys, and the Titans took a 24-17 lead into the break.
“They’re really long and athletic and have the speed to stay in front of our guards,” Stinnie said. “They were in every passing lane and just made everything difficult. We weren’t making shots, and we weren’t doing a good job of making the third or fourth extra pass.”
STAB rolled out a 1-3-1 press to start the second half, forcing a number of errant passes by Trinity Episcopal. With more transition opportunities, the Saints continued their aggressive pace from the second quarter. Shots opened up for guards in the halfcourt, and all five starters connected on field goals in the quarter.
“I sat on the bench at one point and just said, ‘alright, just relax, the first quarter’s over, just go out there and play,’” said Smith, the Saints’ senior who had a double-double by the end of the third quarter and finished with 15 points and 19 rebounds. “Coach Stinnie lit a fire under us [at halftime], and we wanted it so bad. When we turned it up on defense, that’s when our offense started to come through for us.”
Trinity attempted to stem the tide with timeouts, but the run reached 16-0 and didn’t end until junior forward Elaina Chapman drew a whistle inside and knocked down a pair of free throws.
“They came out and gave us their best play at the start of the third quarter and punched us in the mouth,” said Lonon. “I think we had six or seven turnovers. It’s a game of runs, and we just weren’t able to battle back.”
STAB maintained a three or four-possession lead for much of the final quarter. Junior Jovia Winkey was reliable at the free throw line, connecting on six of eight attempts down the stretch to slam the door and finish with a game-high 16 points.
Woodfolk’s 12 points made her the third Saint in double figures. Burgos led the Titans with 15 followed by Chapman’s 13.
STAB (18-5), now winners of 12 straight, awaits its opponent in the VISAA state playoffs.