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Saint Mark’s girls basketball caps undefeated first month with win over Wilmington Charter at Diamond State Classic

Players from both Saint Mark's and Wilmington Charter get hands on the ball. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

WILMINGTON — You can say a lot of things about Saint Mark’s win over Wilmington Charter on Dec. 28 at the Diamond State Classic. It was a defensive battle, marred by shooting woes on both ends, a bit chippy and perhaps a slog. But when it was over, it was also another win for the Spartans, who remained unbeaten in capturing the New Castle Insurance Cup championship with a 36-22 win.

It was Saint Mark’s second win over Charter this season.

Ava Berardi of Saint Mark’s battles Morgan Oliver of Wilmington Charter during their game Saturday. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

The game started out promising enough for the Spartans, as Ally McGonigle drained a mid-range jumper to put Saint Mark’s in front, 2-1, on their second offensive possession. But while offense would prove to be at a premium, the Spartans provided plenty of defense. Ava Berardi, Maddie Lenick and others hounded the Force’s ballhanders all day, and Serena Pluta recorded several blocks.

Emma Brown hit Charter’s lone field goal of the first quarter to give the Force a 4-3 lead, but the lead lasted only as long as it took Berardi to get down the court and nail a long two. The Spartans added three more before the quarter ended.

The Spartans extended the lead with four free throws during the first four minutes of the second, but Ally McGonigle provided a spark with consecutive long baseline jumpers to extend the advantage to 16-8. Morgan Oliver knocked down a three-pointer for the Force before the half ended with the Spartans up by six, 17-11.

Serena Pluta, Saint Mark’s leading scorer, was able to knock down two short field goals in the third, but the teams combined for just 11 points in the stanza. With the outcome still in doubt as the fourth quarter progressed, the Spartans made regular trips to the free throw line as Charter attempted to climb back in.

That would not happen, however, as Saint Mark’s made 12 of 17 attempts. Pluta was a perfect eight for eight from the line in the fourth before fouling out. She also had the team’s lone field goal of the quarter. The Force was held to two buckets in the final eight minutes, and they made just one of six free throw attempts.

Pluta finished with 16 points, 10 of those coming from the charity stripe. McGonigle had eight. That Spartans climbed to 8-0, matching their win total from all of last season. They will travel to A.I. DuPont on Jan. 4 for a noon tip.

Berardi described the difference this year for the Spartans.

“It’s a lot of energy that the freshmen brought it. It’s more speed than height, which we don’t have. I think we really want it this year. We just want to go hard,” she said.

The potential for this group, she continued, is limited only by their effort. “We have to come out with 100 percent. 110. We have to do better than anyone else. There are better teams out there, but it’s our motivation and our mindset.”

For the Force, Brown had nine points and Oliver eight. Charter is now 6-2; next up is a home game on Jan. 7 at 3:30 p.m. against the state’s top team, Conrad.