His team’s loss to St. John Villa in the CHSAA Class A Archdiocesan semifinals was still haunting Tom Cavanagh two days later. The coach still had a hard time wrapping his brain around Notre Dame Academy’s 9-of-48 clip from inside the paint area.
The Gators were much more efficient Sunday, besting Cardinal Spellman, 53-42, in the Archdiocesan third-place game at St. John Villa. Cavanagh, though, still had the game against the Bears on his mind.
“The bottom line is we did exactly what we wanted to do against Villa,” he said. “The shots fell today.”
They certainly did. Notre Dame Academy (16-10) had an efficient, balanced performance against Spellman (16-11). Rachel Rusi and Karina Picciallo had 10 points each, Katelyn Hepworth had nine points and Meghan O’Keefe and Teresa Conigliaro both added eight.
“That’s what we need,” Rusi said. “We can’t just one person getting all the points.”
That’s exactly how it was for Spellman, though. The Falcons came in without starting sophomore point guard Tia Scott (Achilles tendonitis), who has been out most of the season, and senior forward Stephanie Dowe, who dislocated her shoulder in a semifinals loss to Moore Catholic on Friday night. Junior guard Ayris Brown, who has been spelling Scott at the point, is also banged up.
So, the pressure was on Troi Melton to step up and she did – especially in the first half. The 5-foot-11 sophomore forward had 17 of her 23 points before halftime and really carried Spellman, which led, 30-29, going into the break.
“We would be in really bad shape without her,” Falcons coach Jane Morris said.
Melton scored in every which way in the first half, including baseline jumpers, shots from the high post, slashes to the basket and fast-break layups. She was a one-girl wrecking crew. But Notre Dame Academy adjusted in the second half, based on something noticed by Cavanagh’s assistants, Doug Elwell and Jackie Massa.
Melton was getting open and the Gators switched to a 1-2-2 zone to deny her the ball. It certainly worked for the most part. Spellman had only one field goal in the third quarter and, besides a 7-0 run in the fourth that got the Falcons within 47-42 with 1:41 left, struggled offensively after halftime.
“They never readjusted,” Cavanagh said.
Both teams will now readjust for the CHSAA Class A state tournament, which begins next Saturday for the first round right back at St. John Villa. NDA, the Archdiocesan No. 3 seed, will meet Brooklyn/Queens No. 2 Bishop Ford in a rematch of a game at the Francis Lewis Holiday Classic back in December won by NDA. Spellman, the Archdiocesan No. 4, will take on Long Island No. 3 Sacred Heart.
Both teams will go in a little banged up. Besides all of the Falcons’ issues, Gators senior point guard Rachel Rusi injured her right thumb in the quarterfinals against Maria Regina on Tuesday. She has yet to go to the doctor, but it was wrapped up heavily against Spellman.
“I refused to get X-rays until after the game [Sunday],” she said with a laugh.
Luckily for NDA, it has others who can step up if Rusi needs to go out. Spellman, on the other hand, seems to be running out of bodies. It needs Melton more than anything.
“Obviously,” Morris said, “they knew who to key on.”