NEWARK – During the final days of the regular season, Ursuline played Sanford, had a day off, then met Caravel the next day. That scenario will be replayed on Friday after the Raiders advanced to the state championship game following a convincing 48-16 win over Sanford on March 8 at the Bob Carpenter Center.
The top-seeded Raiders took a few minutes at the beginning of the game to get their motor running, but once they did, they just took over the contest. The fourth-seeded Warriors got to within 9-6 on a layup by Samantha Pollich with 1:28 left in the first quarter, but those were the last points they would score until 2:47 remained in the second.
In between, Ursuline scored 12 straight and showed the tenacious defense that is the team’s trademark. Maggie Connolly began the run with her first three-pointer of the night as the first quarter closed. Neither team would score during the first three minutes of the second, but Kryshell Gordy finally broke the ice with a layup. Connolly then hit her second triple after blocking a shot on the defensive end, and Yanni Hendley made a layup the next time down the floor. Connolly scored on another layup before Allie Kubek ended the run with Sanford’s only points of the quarter. Ursuline took a 24-8 lead into intermission.
“We wanted to keep pushing the ball. That was our game plan the whole time, to keep pushing,” sophomore guard Alisha Lewis said. “I know they have a lot of bigs, so as long as they keep running, they get tired. And we don’t get tired. So we kept running and pushing the ball.”
Ursuline coach John Noonan said once his team went on that run, the entire feel of the game changed. Not only did the Raiders score some points, they kept the Warriors and their big front line off the scoreboard.
“Defensively, we were kind of locked in tonight. I think we did a real good job defending the post. It’s not just about stopping them from shooting – because they have the size, they’re able to get the ball – but you don’t want to foul in that situation, and then after they shoot it, make or miss, then we’ve got to get into attack mode,” Noonan said.
Lewis took over the offensive attack in the third. The sophomore guard scored 10 of Ursuline’s 12 points, and the Raiders kept up the stellar defensive effort. With such a large lead, Noonan was able to substitute liberally as the minutes wore down, giving his starters a chance to rest with less than 48 hours remaining before the championship game.
The Raiders, who won the regular-season matchup by 10 – a game in which three-point specialist Olivia Tucker did not play – controlled every aspect of the semifinal rematch. They shot better than 46 percent from the field, including five of 10 from deep; outrebounded the taller Warriors, 34-21; and blocked six shots. Off the stat sheet, Ursuline was able to get into the Warriors’ passing lanes and wear down the opponent.
Connolly led the Raiders (22-1) with 15 points, while Lewis added 14 and Hendley 10. They will attempt to win their third straight championship on Friday at 7 p.m. Ursuline defeated Caravel, 40-36, on Feb. 18 in the penultimate game of the regular season. Tickets are $8 and are available at statechamps.com/diaa.
“There’s always expectations when you come to Ursuline and wear this jersey,” Lewis said.
The game is a rematch of the 2015 state title game, which Ursuline won, 53-41. Three players from each team who appeared in that game will play in this one: Lewis, Connolly and Gordy for Ursuline, and Grace Lange, Kaylee Otlowski and Maia Bryson of Caravel.
Sanford got four points each from Lauren Park, Pollich and Tucker. The Warriors finished the season with a 19-4 record.