Preston’s final game wasn’t the type they envisioned closing a strong season from a young team.
The Panthers never found their shooting stroke in a 54-38 loss to visiting St. Joseph Hill in the opening round of the CHSAA Archdiocesan girls’ basketball playoffs on Monday. It brought an end to a year that saw a Preston team with just one player with significant varsity experience finish 14-10.
“This game doesn’t really define our season,” sophomore forward Paige Castiello said. “We had a great season and this is just a bad game for us.”
First-year Panthers coach Bill McCaffrey said that Hilltoppers freshman Trish Conroy hurt them in the teams’ first meeting, a 70-65 Hill win in early January.
With the defense focused on her, Allie Dunn flourished instead. She scored a game-high 23 points, hitting treys early and attacking the basket late.
On the other end Preston struggled to score, especially in the third quarter. Hill, which out worked Preston on the boards and to loose balls, used a 12-2 run to take a 39-28 lead with 30 seconds left in the frame.
“Today we just couldn’t put the ball in the basketball.” McCaffrey said.
Junior point guard Madeline Giannini did her best to bring Preston back. She scored 17 point by attacking the basket and turning steals into layups. Her 3-pointer with 6:22 left in the game pulled Preston within 43-44. Hill, like it did all game, responded with a 9-0 run to put the game away.
“When you see your teammates struggling you want to step it up and give it a shot,” Giannini said.
The future is still bright for the Panthers. Giannini was the only player on the roster who saw any varsity playing time last season.
Castiello, who scored 13 points, is still an underclassman. Athletic forward Kylah Blake is just a sophomore and the sharpshooting Christine Rice is only a freshman. Preston still loses senior guards Jamilah Ketcham and Christine Albine, but the team’s returnees feel they have really formed a bond this season.
“We meshed as a team,” Giannini said. “We became a family. Every game we got stronger and stronger. We got to know how everyone plays.”
Their progress didn’t translate into a win against St. Joseph Hill, but that doesn’t change they way Preston feels about how far its come this year.
“It wasn’t our best game, but what are you going to do,” Giannini said. “You have games like that. Unfortunately this one was the playoffs.”