WILMINGTON – High-pressure situations like Thursday afternoon’s Saint Francis Healthcare Cup semifinals are why Ursuline head coach John Noonan schedules tough competition for his team early in the season.
“Our kids are tough, top to bottom. They will compete,” Noonan said after the defending-champion Raiders outlasted St. Rose 54-51 to advance to their Diamond State Classic bracket final. “Every year when we schedule these tournaments, they always say our kids play hard and that’s something to be proud of.”
“We definitely came out for revenge,” said junior guard Maggie Connolly, who led Ursuline with 15 points, including the game-clinching free throws with two seconds to go in the fourth quarter. “We lost to them by 16 last year, so we all came together for that win.”
After a nip-and-tuck first quarter that ended deadlocked at 12, Ursuline (5-1) took a 28-23 lead into halftime and pushed it to 39-27 in the third quarter behind Connolly and sophomore guards Alisha Lewis (13 points) and Yanni Hendley (9 points).
“I knew I had to come in and make some shots for my team,” Hendley said. “Everybody on this team can do the job.”
St. Rose battled back several times in the second half as forward Luci Thomas, the team’s leading scorer with 16 points, and guard Mikayla Markham led a final 9-4 Purple Roses rush to shrink the Raiders’ lead to a single point.
After Hendley missed the front end of a one-and-one, she was called for a blocking foul on Markham with 3.9 seconds left, but Markham also missed her first free-throw attempt. Connolly tracked down the rebound with 2.2 seconds left and calmly hit both foul shots to end it.
“I was really nervous,” Connolly admitted, “but I wanted to win that game so bad and I had the support of my teammates.”
“This was a tough game, but I think our kids are battle-tested,” Noonan said. “We just came out on the right end of thing today, but it certainly could’ve went the other way.”
Ursuline will play for the Saint Francis Healthcare Cup championship Friday afternoon at 4:15 against the winner of the Roland Park (Md.)/Ventura (Ca.) semifinal game.