NEWARK – As victorious Caravel players giddily galloped off the Carpenter Center floor and their St. Elizabeth counterparts trudged away disconsolate in defeat Wednesday night, it was just as clear to see the reasons why it turned out that way.
Caravel’s ability to rebound, defend and make timely late free throws spelled the difference as the Bucs vanquished the Vikings 44-36 in the semifinals of the 45th annual DIAA Girls Basketball Tournament in front of 2,219.
St. Elizabeth’s bid for an 18th title-game appearance was doomed by off-target shooting, including 0-for-14 aim from the field in the third quarter.
Caravel still had to thwart a late Vikings charge, as Alexis Lee’s 3-point play with 1:57 left cut Caravel’s edge to 37-34 and it was 40-36 with 1:01 to go after Dymond Collins scored inside for St. Elizabeth.
But the Vikings missed the rest of their shots and Caravel’s Maia Bryson locked up the victory with four foul shots in the final 23 seconds.
“I just had to tell myself not to think about it too much,” said Bryson, a junior whose 12 points featured 6-for-8 foul-line aim. “When I overthink I do too much and don’t finish the way I should.”
That was good thinking by Bryson, as No. 3-seeded Caravel (17-6) won for the ninth time in its last 10 games.
Caravel is seeking its first state girls basketball title, having lost in the championship games in 2013 (to St. Elizabeth) and 2015 (to Ursuline). The title game is Friday night at 7 against top-seeded Ursuline.
HIGH SCHOOLS: Underdog Caravel boys in state semifinals
Grace Lange supplied 12 points and 12 rebounds and Sasha Marvel had 10 rebounds for Caravel, which had a huge 49-33 advantage in that category. Kaylee Otkowski had seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
“When you look at St. E, it’s like us, they have some strong posts, Lee and [Alanna] Speaks,” Lange said. “When we were looking at their game against Caesar Rodney [in the quarterfinals] the thing that they crushed Caesar Rodney on was the boards. Same thing when we battled them during the season. I don’t think we boxed out our best against A.I. [in the quarterfinals] so that’s what we focused on tonight.”
No. 7 St. Elizabeth (15-8) had a six-game win streak snapped. The Vikings had edged Caravel 50-49 during the regular season and were seeking their sixth state girls basketball title.
But they were done in by 12-for-56 (21.4 percent) shooting from the field and 9-for-21 (42.9 percent) aim at the foul line. In addition to its third-quarter drought, St. Elizabeth was 5-for-31 in the second half and 7-for-33 over the final three-quarters from the field.
Lee’s double-double – 11 points and 10 rebounds – led the Vikings.
“That was it,” coach Dan Cooney said of his team’s shooting woes. “We’ve had spurts like that where we’ve missed shots and a lot of them were layups and not shooting well at the foul line. We kind of corrected it for a little bit and there were some games where we just got away with not being great”.
“It came down full force on us tonight. You’re not going to win scoring two points in the third quarter. It wasn’t for lack of shooting.”
St. Elizabeth started strong, scoring on four straight possessions during one first-quarter span and carrying a 14-8 lead into the second period.
But Caravel responded with a 9-0 run to go ahead 17-14, with St. Elizabeth missing seven straight shots and having a turnover over seven possessions. After the Vikings went back ahead 19-17 on Sarah Metz’s 3-pointer, Caravel responded with Bryson’s 3-pointer and Karli Cauley’s two free throws to take a 22-19 edge into intermission.
Caravel was undermined by 20 turnovers, and that helped St. Elizabeth stay close during its dreadful third quarter, which ended with Caravel up 28-21. St. E scored on four straight possessions early in the fourth quarter to pull within 30-26, but could never establish the offensive consistency necessary.
“It was a little hairy there the second half in the fourth quarter,” Caravel coach Kristin Caldwell said, “but you know what you’re going to get with St. Elizabeth. Those kids never quit, ever. You see that time after time after time, so I give a lot of credit to St. Elizabeth… I give my girls credit. Maia hit big free throws down the stretch when we were throwing up bricks the whole day. We were gritty enough to finish it off.”
As for Caravel’s defensive prowess, Caldwell added, “We have a couple kids on our team defensively that are just weapons,” referring to Otlowski, Marvel, and Lange in particular.
Contact Kevin Tresolini at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @kevintresolini.