Sacred Heart built a 16-point halftime lead and held on late to beat Eastern 77-71 Thursday night. The Valkyries improved to 4-1 on the season while the Eagles dropped to 1-3.
“I liked that we just gutted through it,” said Sacred Heart head coach Donna Moir. “We’re young. We’re experienced in about two or three spots and throwing a lot of freshmen out there and a lot of kids that played JV last year. I’m really proud of them.”
“The first half, I think everything that could’ve gone right for us did, even Aubree (Littlejohn) hitting the last shot (before the half). In the second half, we knew they were going to come at us. When we really needed a basket, we seemed to get the basket we needed.”
Tied 20-20 with two minutes to go in the first quarter, the Valkyries went on a 9-0 run to close out the quarter. The lead grew to double-digits, culminating in Littlejohn’s buzzer beater to send Sacred Heart into the locker room up 51-35. Junior Kristen Clemons scored 19 of her team-high 25 points in the first half.
“(We gave up) 51 points in the first half with no contested layups. We let Kristen Clemons shoot layups for a half, 19 points and eight rebounds at the half, 90 percent of which were uncontested,” said Eastern head coach Josh Leslie. “We cut out that and it’s probably closer or a different outcome. She’s a great player, but we just let her do what she wanted in the first half.”
Clemons’ role is much different this year. Through five games, she’s averaging 16 points and ten rebounds a game as a starter. In the 2017-18 season, Clemons averaged eight points on a team with plenty of depth.
“She had it. We just had five kids from last year’s team playing college basketball,” said Moir. “She just wasn’t the first option. I don’t think we gave the ball enough in the second half.”
“I think this year I have to step up as a leader and help all of the younger girls get better too. It’s just my job,” said Clemons.
Sophomore Destinee Marshall finished with 24 points and hit four three-pointers. Lone senior Ashlee Harris joined Clemons and Marshall in double-figures with 16 points.
Early in the third quarter, the Eagles scored eleven unanswered points to cut their deficit to 53-46. The Valkyries responded with a 13-6 run over the next five minutes to push their advantage to 14 entering the fourth quarter.
However, Eastern would not go away. The Eagles opened the fourth with a 12-3 run to pull within five with five minutes remaining. With two minutes left, Sacred Heart’s lead was down to four. With 30 seconds left, Eastern had cut it to three. But the Valkyries answered back every time.
“It was a game of runs,” said Moir. “(Eastern) is good. They’re a good ball team, so it’s a good win for our program.”
For the Eagles, the loss comes down to missed opportunities in the closing moments.
“We’ve had three games now against ranked teams where we have the ball, down a possession and we go turnover, turnover, and they go score, score. And then the game is over,” said Leslie. “We had chances. We had a ton of chances, but we just couldn’t get over the hump and capitalize on it.”
Eastern senior standout Kiara Pearl scored a game-high 27 points. Fellow senior Mikayla Kinnard scored 13 points to go along with eight rebounds.