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Caravel pulls away from Saint Mark’s in first round of DIAA girls basketball tournament

India Johnston, who led Caravel with 17 points, grabs a loose ball. (Dialog photo/Mike Lang)

MILLTOWN – Caravel opened up a 10-point lead after one quarter, then withstood Saint Mark’s comeback efforts in the third quarter in a 53-36 win March 4 in the first round of the DIAA girls basketball state tournament at Saint Mark’s.

A combination of factors helped the 20th-seeded Buccaneers grab that double-digit lead in the first eight minutes. The host Spartans, seeded 13th, struggled from the field, leading to a bunch of rebounding opportunities. Caravel had a big edge on the boards, particularly on the offensive end, and they were able to turn those into points. Three of their six field goals in the first were three-pointers, including the first bucket of the contest, which came from Julia Nask. The other two triples came from Amaya Johnson. It was 16-6 after one.

Maddie Lenick takes a runner for Saint Mark’s. (Dialog photo/Mike Lang)

The Spartans did what they could to stay close while their shots weren’t falling. Caravel had trouble from the field as well in the second. Sophia Messick played her part trying to bring the Spartans back; she nailed the team’s only three-pointer of the evening a minute into the quarter to make it 16-9. Taylor Wilkins provided an inside presence for the Bucs, hitting two short field goals. Caravel added a point to its lead by halftime.

The third quarter was the Spartans’ best of the night as they tried to climb back into the game, and their lone senior, Serena Pluta, was in the middle of those efforts. She scored the team’s first hoop of the second half on a drive down the lane, going off the glass. Ava Berardi hit a mid-range jumper that bounced off the rim three times, prompting a Bucs timeout.

Nask answered out of the timeout with a big corner three, giving the visitors at 26-16 lead. Pluta scored off an inbounds pass seconds later, and she was fouled. The three-point play cut the deficit back to seven. Shortly thereafter, Maddie Lenick went one-for-two from the free throw line, and the Spartans were within six midway through the third. Caravel, meanwhile, lost its shooting touch for a few minutes.

But Caitlin St. Leger entered the game and immediately paid dividends. She hit a follow shot after a missed layup to end the Saint Mark’s run at five. Lenick fed Pluta for a layup to make it 28-22. Johnston and Wilkins ran a give-and-go to perfection immediately after that. The lead bounced between six and eight the rest of the quarter, with Caravel up by eight heading into the fourth.

The Bucs opened some breathing room early in the stanza. Wilkins drove for a layup, followed by a 15-footer from Johnston. St. Leger found Nask in the corner the next time down the floor, and Nask drained her third triple to extend the lead to 15. The Buccaneers hit enough free throws in the final five minutes to keep the Spartans at bay.

For the Bucs, Johnston led the way with 17, while Wilkins had 11. Caravel improved to 10-11 and will travel to No. 4 Delmarva Christian on Friday at 7 p.m.

Pluta scored 19 in her final high school game. Saint Mark’s finished the season 13-8.


Two other Catholic schools played in the first round on Wednesday night. Archmere, the ninth seed, defeated No. 24 Sussex Tech, 73-39. The Auks will travel to No. 8 Woodbridge on Friday night at 7.

Ursuline, the 19th seed, took care of the 14th seed, Newark Charter, 61-12. The Raiders will hit the road to meet Sanford on Friday at 7.

St. Elizabeth, the fifth seed, and sixth-seeded Padua earned first-round byes. The Vikings will host No. 12 Lake Forest, while the Pandas will take on No. 11 Polytech at Salesianum School. Those games start at 7 as well.