MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s overcame some early shooting struggles, and the Spartans’ defense caused problems all afternoon in a 44-30 win over McKean on Dec. 21. The Spartans remained undefeated with the victory.
The teams combined for just 10 points in the first quarter, with Saint Mark’s holding a 6-4 lead. Senior Serena Pluta, celebrating her 18th birthday, found the range in the second as the lead grew steadily. After a Lady Highlanders free throw, Pluta got started. She blocked a shot, sprinted the length of the floor and hit a 10-foot jumper that put the Spartans in front, 8-5.
She continued to do damage inside, scoring eight of the team’s first nine points of the quarter as the lead grew to six points. McKean climbed back to within three, but Maddie Lenick buried a three-point shot at the buzzer for the 18-12 halftime advantage.
Saint Mark’s aggressive man-to-man defense stymied the Lady Highlanders into the third quarter, but the Spartans could get the lead up to just nine points by the time the stanza ended. Five different Spartans scored, including a three-pointer from Alyssa Cresto, while McKean could manage just three field goals over the eight minutes.
Trailing, 31-20, early in the fourth, the Lady Highlanders made a move. Khalia Hart continued a strong game by draining a field goal, then stealing a Spartans pass and going the length of the floor for a layup. She was fouled and made the free throw, cutting the Spartans’ lead to 31-25.
Saint Mark’s responded with an 11-0 run to put the game out of reach. Pluta returned with six minutes left after sitting for nearly three minutes with three fouls. She immediately took a pass from Sophia Messick in the key and, as the defense collapsed around her, hit a wide-open Ava Berardi for a 15-foot baseline jumper. Messick collected a steal and found Pluta for a layup. The other seven points came on a Messick field goal and two others from Lenick, including one that became a three-point play.
Pluta led the way with 12 points, while Berardi and Lenick added 10 each. The Spartans (6-0) return to action on Friday at the Diamond State Classic. They will face Wilmington Friends at 9:45 a.m. in the first game of the event as part of the New Castle Insurance Cup.
Hart had 17 to lead the Lady Highlanders. McKean fell to 3-4 and will play next on Jan. 6 at Brandywine at 5 p.m.