In basketball, clutch players elevate their game on the biggest stage.
That was surely the case for the St. Francis Prep, Fresh Meadows, varsity girls’ basketball team as they battled to a 70-59 victory over Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge, in the GCHSAA ‘AA’ diocesan championship.
Terriers senior forward Destiny Howell dazzled the packed house at Xaverian’s gymnasium on March 7to the tune of a game-high 34 points to go along with four rebounds and four steals. In the biggest contest of the year, she brought her game to the next level.
“My teammates just kept giving me the ball,” Howell said. “It was going in so I kept shooting. I kept doing what was working.”
Howell hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter, but Xaverian hung tight and only trailed by one after the opening frame. The game was knotted at 22 with just over three minutes remaining in the half when the Terriers took over.
Led by a 7-0 individual run by Howell, the Prep closed out the first half on a 14-4 run to open a 10-point lead at the break. Senior guard MacKayla Scarlett chipped in with six points in the closing minutes to add to the lead.
“We said from the beginning that we going to come out and play hard defense and let the offense come to us, and it did,” Scarlett . said. “We started to drive to the basket and kick to the open person. That was Destiny, and she just kept hitting them.”
“We saw she (Howell) was hitting, so at that point, we just kept calling everything for her,” said Terriers head coach Kerri White. “Our mentality is whoever has the hot hand, go for it. She did what she had to do.”
The Clippers furiously tried to mount a comeback in the second half, but Howell hit big shot after big shot. With just under a minute remaining, Xaverian senior guard Callie O’Brien brought the crowd to their feet with a huge 3-pointer to cut the Prep lead to five.
That would be as close as the Clippers would get however, as Terriers sophomore guard Skye Owen shot lights-out from the free-throw line late to protect the victory. Eight of Owen’s 12 points in the game came in the crucial fourth quarter.
“I was just thinking that I take about a hundred free-throws a day almost. I have to knock these down,” said Owen, who also had seven rebounds and five assists. “I shoot so many free-throws each practice, so I went to the line just like any other day.”
Scarlett turned in an all-around effort, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. In addition to scoring six points, senior forward JeAnna Cunningham was a defensive stalwart for the Prep with six rebounds and three blocked shots to add to the cumulative team win.
“I think that’s one of our biggest assets,” White said. “If they try to stop someone or someone’s not having a great day, someone else picks it up. We’re a very well-balanced team.”
For Xaverian, senior forward Julia Fabozzi scored a game-high 21 points and pulled down 14 rebounds for a double-double. O’Brien contributed 16 points, five rebounds and three assists, while freshman forward Grace Sundback tallied nine points and six rebounds.
While St. Francis Prep enjoyed the thrill of victory at the moment, this was just the first step, as the team already has its sights set on the next round of playoffs.
“Definitely we have to go back and watch the film,” Howell said. “There are some things we could do better. We have to stay humble, stay ready and stay focused. Let’s get back to business.”
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.