Sarah Roswarski checked into the game, jogged onto the court, and embraced her older sister, Alanna.
When Alanna Roswarski reached the bench, the Knights’ senior forward shared an emotional moment with her teammates and coaches. Central Catholic’s state tournament run was ending, and so too were the careers of three Knight seniors.
“I don’t want it to be over,” Alanna Roswarski said. “I think the pain of losing family members is greater than the pain of a loss.
“Of course I wanted to go to state, I wanted to win it, but I think what really hurts the most is knowing next year I’m not going to put on that jersey.”
Despite a strong charge during the second and third quarters, Central Catholic could not subdue Class A power Fort Wayne Canterbury. The Crusaders advanced to their fifth state championship in six years with a 74-50 victory over CC in a Crown Point Semistate game.
Bailey Fairley (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Darby Maggard (16 points, eight assists) led five Canterbury players in double figures.
The Knights, playing in their first semistate since the state championship season of 2006, finished 17-10. A postseason that began with a victory over rival Frontier and continued with impressive victories through the regional ended against the defending state champion.
“I love this team more than any team I’ve had these past three years,” said CC junior Emily Denhart, who scored a game-high 18 points and is one of four returning starters. “It’s been a great season. Hopefully, next year is just as good or even better.”
Canterbury built a big first-quarter lead by thwarting two aspects of the Central Catholic game plan.
Knights coach Craig DeVault said CC hoped to get the ball inside to utilize Denhart’s athleticism. Yet the length and strength of the Crusader defenders in the post rejected and deflected CC passes all day, and Canterbury successfully converted several turnovers into fast-break opportunities.
Roswarski hit a pair of 3s to give CC an early 6-5 lead, but Canterbury immediately responded with a 12-0 run. When impressive Crusaders sophomore guard Maggard closed the first quarter with two 3s of her own, Canterbury led 23-8.
“Our passes weren’t crisp, they weren’t hard; we were just trying to lob it,” DeVault said. “It’s hard to lob a pass when they’re playing a zone and they’ve got three girls in there with all the hands. Our passing game wasn’t its best.”
Central Catholic, known for its strong man-to-man defense, prepared all week to utilize a 2-3 zone against Canterbury. The Crusaders responded by hitting four of their first six 3s, helping force the Knights back to their more familiar man approach.
That switch coincided with a late first-half spurt by which CC cut the Canterbury lead to 39-23 at halftime. Denhart contributed eight points and three rebounds in the second quarter to fuel the rally.
“I think zone’s the type of defense you need to play against a team like them, being good shooters,” Denhart said. “Unfortunately, we’re not a zone team. Man’s how we get all of our points off of transition, so not being able to play man really killed us.”
The Knights’ only chance was to extend that surge into the second half, and at first, they did. When Alanna Roswarski drained a 3 and Denhart followed with a pair of free throws, CC had pulled within 41-32 with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
That was as close as CC had been since the final two minutes of the first quarter.
“They did a really nice job picking up where they left off at the end of the second quarter,” Canterbury coach Wayne Kreiger said. “We were breaking ourselves down a little bit, just trying to do too much one-on-one stuff.
“I called a timeout and said we needed to go back to our regular sets offensively and work on our transition game. We felt if we could rebound and get it out, they were sending so many people to the boards we could be effective there, and we were.”
Rather than buckle, the battle-tested Crusaders responded with a game-sealing run of their own. Converting turnovers into layups, Canterbury extended its lead to 15 points by the end of the third quarter and 63-40 early in the fourth.
Central Catholic freshman point guard Cameron Onken battled illness all week and was at less than full strength. The Knights struggled to handle the ball all day, committing 26 turnovers.
“They’re a very strong team, and a very tall team,” Denhart said. “Us being a little undersized, our game’s trying to speed things up. When a team’s just as fast as us, I think it kind of shocked us and got in our heads.”
Emily Burks contributed eight points and six rebounds for CC, and Angela Tharp added six points and four rebounds off the bench. Roswarski, one of two 1,000-point scorers in CC history, scored 14 points in her final game. She will be joined at graduation by teammates Michaela Davis and Camille Ulery.
Though disappointed by the final step, the Knights said they enjoyed the journey.
“This isn’t the way we wanted to end this season, but I couldn’t have asked for a better group of girls this season,” Alanna Roswarski said. “I loved going to practice every day. I loved every game. The coaches were amazing. My teammates were amazing.
“If I’m going to end my senior year, I’d like to end it with this team.”