Nazareth girls tune up
Edge De La Salle; Montini tourney next
By Steve Metsch
One play can mean so much in a basketball game.
Such was the case in Friday night’s non-conference game for the Nazareth girls.
In a tight contest with a scrappy De La Salle team, host Nazareth found itself clinging to a 42-39 with 1:40 to play in the fourth quarter.
The Meteors didn’t allow Nazareth any looks, and Takiya Howard fouled senior guard Franchesca Metz with 1:15 left.
As Metz prepared to pass the ball in, her four teammates stood near her, guarded by the five Meteors. That is, until Nazareth junior guard Justina Hernandez released, spun and raced toward the basket.
Metz lofted a perfect pass over everyone to a waiting Hernandez, who scored uncontested for a 44-39 lead. De La Salle trimmed that to 44-41 with 16.1 seconds left after Janiece Dawson stole the ball and scored, but Hernandez sank four free throws to seal the win.
Nazareth won, 48-41, and improved to 9-2, while De La Salle fell to 6-5.
Nazareth’s Grace Carstensen, left, and Franchesca Metz pressure De La Salle’s Damara Sims during a 48-41 victory on Dec. 20. Photo by Steve Metsch.
The backbreaking play is worked on often in practice.
“That’s our play. That’s what’s supposed to happen. We put everyone toward the ball, (which) made it wide-open for me and she made a perfect pass,” Hernandez said.
Nazareth Head Coach Eddie Stritzel added: “We were hoping they’d bite on it … I thought that was the play of the game.”
Meteors Head Coach John Smith chalked it up “to youth, young mistakes … It’s just one of those mistakes. Miscommunication.”
“We have a very young team. Today, we started two freshmen, a sophomore and two juniors. One of the guards (on that play) is a freshman. She’ll learn,” Smith said.
It was one of many good plays by Hernandez, who lead Nazareth with 19 points. Another came early when she grabbed three straight rebounds in one possession before sinking her fourth shot for an 8-3 lead.
“She played inside outside. We were trying to juggle who matched up with her. She got us inside and out. Somebody’s got to box (Hernandez) out,” Smith said.
Nazareth led 13-6 after one quarter after freshman Grace Carstensen scored five points. De La Salle charged back and took an 18-13 lead with a 3- pointer by Howard.
“I liked the intensity and the fact that our girls never gave up,” Smith said.
Nazareth led 25-24 at the half, and took a 31-26 lead with a 3-pointer by Kaylen Evans. Once again, De La Salle battled back, taking a 34-32 lead after a basket by Janiece Dawson.
The teams were tied at 34-34 heading into the fourth quarter that saw Nazareth double up on De La Salle, 14-7.
De La Salle’s strong effort did not surprise Stritzel.
“(The Meteors) are extremely well-coached. Coach Smith, you can see those kids play hard for him,” he said.
It’s the price one pays for finishing third in the state last season and second in the 2017-18 season.
“I tell the girls all the time, we’ve arrived as a program. They play us now, this is (the other) team’s Super Bowl. We’re not under the radar any more. I think that’s a great thing,” said Stritzel.
He did not like the 17 turnovers.
“Our youth shows sometimes. I rely on Kaylen and Frannie a lot to bail us out of situations. They always do. They’re great seniors. They’ve been through the wars with us,” Stritzel said.
Evans, who scored 10 points, said being on break means “we can focus on basketball.”
Hoping to defend its title, Nazareth is in the Montini Holiday Tournament and plays Lake Forest at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 26.
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