It’s always nice to close out the final home game of the season with a win. Doing it over a rival in a playoff game makes it even better.
Kennedy Johnson and Mandy Buirch combined for 37 points as the fifth-seeded Lady Lions defeated 11th-seeded Our Lady of Mercy Academy, 45-31 in the Non-Public B South quarterfinals. The win advances Sacred Heart to the semifinals Monday against second-seeded Gill St. Bernard, a winner over St. Rose of Belmar.
“It’s really good for us to go out like this,” Johnson, who finished the game with 27 points, 18 rebounds and 5 blocks, said. “For Mandy and me, we’re the leaders on this team so to go out leading the way is very nice.”
“It was nice to go out like this with my classmates,” Buirch, who finished with 10 points, said. “It was a good atmosphere tonight and OLMA always brings out the best in us.”
The Lady Lions (21-7) controlled the game from the outset as they went to Johnson early and often in the first quarter. The versatile center accounted for the Lady Lions’ first nine points and 14 of the team’s first 16, including a 3-pointer to start off the scoring — something that is new to her offensive arsenal.
“Coach (Steve DiPatri) told me to start shooting from out there,” Johnson, said. “I started shooting them in the Cape-Atlantic (League) Tournament and it’s something I want to keep doing.”
Sacred Heart was never really threatened as the Lady Lions built a 25-10 halftime lead on the strength of Johnson and a tenacious defense, which kept the Villagers (12-14) frustrated the entire game.
“I thought we really stepped it up defensively,” DiPatri said. “That set the tone for us and allowed us to control the tempo.”
“We knew they only had the one big player (Ruta Vetra),” Buirch said. “So we knew we had to go inside tonight.”
Vetra led Our Lady of Mercy with 11 points and Anne Brewer added eight for the Villagers, who trailed by as many as 20 points late in the fourth quarter.
While focusing on Monday’s semifinal, DiPatri did take a minute to comment on what his team has done this year.
“It’s a testament to these girls as we are at the same place we were last year with a much different team,” DiPatri said. “They are playing with pride and passion.”