As the defending champion and top-ranked team in the state, Ursuline was probably going to be the favorite when the DIAA Girls Basketball State Tournament starts next week.
The Raiders put any doubts to rest Wednesday, overwhelming No. 3 Sanford on the way to a 58-27 home victory in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Ursuline (14-5) led 22-4 after the first quarter. The Raiders pushed the margin to 38-10 at halftime, leaving the Warriors’ 13-game winning streak in tatters.
“It was a real nice win for us, to end the season on a high note going into a little layoff here,” Ursuline coach John Noonan said. “I think the energy will be really good at practice leading into the tournament.”
It was 6-4 when the Raiders ripped off 16 straight points to end the first quarter. Mary Abram hit a free throw, Adrianna Hahn drained a 3-pointer and Kailyn Kampert threaded a pass to Laura Hurff for a layup to make it 12-4 and send Sanford (15-5) scrambling for a timeout.
The break didn’t help. Hurff pulled up for a 3. Hahn hit a free throw. Abram broke loose for a reverse layup. Hahn passed to Brenna Williams for a layup. And Hahn capped the quarter with a steal and drive for another layup.
“We usually emphasize offense. We’ve switched it,” Noonan said. “We’re emphasizing defense. That’s our commitment.”
The Raiders were hitting on all cylinders in the first half, shooting 65 percent from the field while pushing the pace and creating turnovers with ferocious full-court pressure.
“We just made sure that we really pushed the tempo, and we had to really keep our intensity up,” Hurff said. “When we move the ball really fast, we’re able to get our shots open.”
Abram led the Raiders with 14 points, while Hahn added 13. Abram thought Ursuline’s first-quarter intensity may have caught the Warriors by surprise.
“We really came prepared,” she said. “We’ve been practicing really hard, knowing that just because we won last year, it’s a whole new year, it’s a whole new team.”
Sanford handed Ursuline its only in-state loss last year, a 31-30 setback in the regular-season finale.
But the Raiders bounced back to drop the Warriors 49-29 in the state championship game, and Ursuline has the upper hand going into this year’s tournament.
“We have a ton of respect for them and their program,” Noonan said of Sanford. “They’ve become one of our biggest rivals, so we take this game very seriously, as do they. But this game doesn’t mean a lot. It’s just a regular-season game.”