Sacred Heart rallied from a sluggish start to defeat CAL 60-54 Friday night in a battle between the two winningest teams in the 7th region this season. The Valkyries improved to 18-7 on the year while the Centurions dropped to 18-9.
“I just don’t think we came out ready to play,” said Sacred Heart head coach Donna Moir. “We gradually started to do what we worked on and got our way back into the game. We tied it up at the half, and we played a good second half.
“I’ve really had a whole lot of fun coaching this group. We’ve had a lot of adversity, and they’ve come together, and they stick together. It’s been fun. And they’re good too.”
The Centurions jumped out to an early 8-2 lead before the Valkyries made their first bucket with 3:41 to play in the first quarter. CAL never trailed in the first half, but Sacred Heart tied the game three times and entered the locker room all square at 34-34.
“We were ready to play,” said CAL head coach Perry White. “We had a tough stretch where we played about nine games in 18 days, four of them on a college floor, and against good competition. And then we finally got a week of rest, got to play Tuesday night and get our legs back. I knew we would be ready. They’re a good basketball team.”
The second half featured seven lead changes and five ties. Sacred Heart took its first lead early in the third quarter at 39-37, but the Centurions answered with a 6-0 run midway through the third and grabbed the lead back. The Valkyries then scored the final four points of the quarter to take a 48-45 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the duo of Sarah McDonald and Arina Khlopkova fueled a 7-2 run over four and a half minutes to put CAL back in front 52-50 as Sacred Heart’s Kristen Clemons sat on the bench with four fouls. When Clemons returned, however, momentum shifted back to the Valkyries. Clemons scored five unanswered, including the go-ahead layup with 1:48 remaining. She finished with a game-high 16 points and 17 rebounds.
“Her footwork is good. She’s long, and she’s hard to defend. Our girls did a good job finding her,” said Moir.
The Valkyries closed the game on an 8-2 run, holding the Centurions to just one field goal over the final 3:30. CAL also struggled from the free throw line down the stretch, hitting 3-of-8 from the stripe in the fourth quarter.
“We couldn’t hit free throws,” said White. “If we had hit free throws, it would’ve been a different game. That’s kind of unusual. We don’t usually miss that many free throws.”
Sacred Heart’s backcourt tandem of Destinee Marshall and Ashlee Harris finished with 14 points each. Both also recorded four assists.
McDonald led the Centurions with 15 points. Shelby Calhoun posted a double-double with ten points and 13 rebounds while Khlopkova and Jaya McClure also hit double figures with 12 points.
Barring a major upset, Sacred Heart and CAL should advance to the 7th region tournament in about two weeks. It’s possible these two teams will meet again, perhaps as early as the first round.
“We could. It’s going to be tough,” said Moir. “Somebody might get three really hard games to come out of it. But that’s what you want. You want your best team to come out of the 7th region. It’ll be fun.”
“I think we match up really well against them and I like our chances against them if we get them again in the region,” said White. “That’s two teams right there that go at each other. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not fun coming out on the losing end, but it’s fun.”