Sierra Smith was still pounding away on the boards and probing for buckets underneath while Jovia Winkey was trying to knife her hands in to slap the ball away for a steal.
Fittingly, neither of STAB’s leaders or anyone else on the roster were quitting in the fourth quarter even as Bishop Ireton kept pulling away in Saturday’s VISAA D1 state semifinal game forced into a brunch-like time slot Saturday because of a power outage Friday.
The Cardinals eventually finished the job, winning 52-25 largely by holding the Saints to just five points in the second half.
“We played the best defense we could play and they had to make some big shots and they did,” said STAB coach Phil Stinnie. “We challenged them to make some big shots and they made big shots.”
Ireton went on to the state title game late Saturday where they fell to national powerhouse Paul VI 51-50 when a last second potential gamewinner rimmed out.
For STAB though, the loss marked both the end of an era and a fitting cap for Smith, the defensive savant who went toe-to-toe with Ireton’s powerhouse, 6-foot-3 junior forward Akunna Konkwo. Konkwo finished with 20 points but Smith forced her to work for every single one of them.
“To have the run she’s had at St. Anne’s and to end her career the way she did today, that score means nothing,” Stinnie said. “She competed against one of the top kids in the country and it was all size difference because she showed she can compete at that level. I’m so proud of her.”
Smith pulled down nearly 1,300 rebounds in her four-year career as the Saints’ defensive enforcer and averaged 12.2 boards per contest for her career. Against Konkwo Saturday, she scored 12 points, 10 of them coming in the first half as STAB hung tight, trailing just 25-20 at the break. Winkey had nine points, with all but one coming in that first half. In the second half, the Saints played strong defense with similar results on that end but went cold on offense.
Ireton got four key 3-pointers from Samantha Shackelford in the win as she finished with 14 points, providing a perimeter counterweight to Konkwo’s work in the paint. Sydney Peters lit it up from beyond the arc early for the Cardinals, knocking down three first quarter 3-pointers while notching 12 points in the game.
Smith’s prep career ended with the loss, but she heads to Hartford next year where she’ll bring years of high-level championship experience to the Hawks. Smith has played in four-straight final fours in VISAA’s extremely tough and deep Division I. She’s also helped push the Saints to four-straight LIS titles.
“For four years, this team has been role players,” Stinnie said. “And for those role players to turn themselves into and to get to the Division I final four with how loaded it is speaks volumes. They have no reason to hang their head.”