Fittingly, the Saint Anne’s-Belfield girls basketball team capped the LIS tournament as it had throughout conference play all season — with a win.
In fact, the Saints, which used an aggressive defense and made smart decisions on offense, earned their third straight LIS championship as they dispatched St. Catherine’s 65-49 for the crown on Thursday.
“[The win] means a lot because we went undefeated in the conference, and I think anything short of a championship would have been a letdown for the team,” Saint Anne’s coach Phil Stinnie said. “St. Catherine’s is a really gritty team — well-coached, really good players. We knew they were going to take advantage of any mistake we made, so we tried to minimize our mistakes and put pressure on them and made them adjust.”
Early on, the game looked as if it could be similar to the teams’ meeting earlier this month, in which STAB prevailed in overtime. The visitors trailed by one after the first quarter.
However, STAB was able to get some separation in the second quarter, thanks in part to a pair of 3-pointers by Brianna Tinsley and Ashley Taylor. They built on the lead with solid free-throw shooting and Vanessa Woodfolk drained another basket from long distance just before halftime to give her team a 37-26 advantage
St. Catherine’s (20-4) trimmed STAB’s double-digit lead to eight late in the third as Sydnei Archie knocked down a three. Archie, who is headed to VCU, paced the visitors with 16 points. STAB employed a box-and-one on the junior forward and held her to seven second-half points.
“We put our offense to the side and just worked on our defense,” said Tinsley, who led all scorers with 21 points. “In the second half we wanted to shake them up a little bit and came out with our defenses that we had been practicing.”
The Saints (20-3) came up with 15 steals in the contest, led by Mailynn Steppe, who had four takeaways, including one with 4:29 to play which she dished to Tinsley for an easy basket underneath. The shot gave STAB a 56-44 lead and St. Catherine’s never threatened again.
STAB’s performance at the foul line played a big role in the win as the team converted 11 of 14 free throws in the final frame. Saint Anne’s finished 22 of 30 from the free-throw line.
Jayla Davis, who proved once again how adept she is at maneuvering around defenders and finding a lane to the basket, finished with 17 points.
“She’s our go-getter — she’s our energizer bunny,” Stinnie said of Davis, a junior. “She starts things on defense end and she’s so fast and so quick.”
Taylor, a senior, added 11 points and four rebounds, while Sierra Smith grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds to go along with a pair of blocks.
STAB will play an opponent to be determined in next week’s VISAA Division I tournament, but the Saints are currently ranked No. 2 in Division I and could be on a collision course with top-ranked Paul VI if they can stay the course. St. Catherine’s is ranked fourth.
“It’s been a really special year,” Taylor said. “We all get along both on and off the court and we work well together. Everyone has the same goal in mind — we want to get to the state championships, and this is just one step in the process.”