The Morris Catholic girls basketball team is headed back to the Non-Public B final.
The second-seeded Crusaders (25-1) repeated as Non-Public North B champions with a 58-48 victory over No. 1 Immaculate Conception at Paterson Kennedy on Wednesday and will travel back to Pine Belt Arena for the second-straight year.
Morris Catholic, which fell to Trenton Catholic 60-49 in the final last year, will face St. Rose (the Non-Public South B champ) on Saturday at noon.
“It’s a great feeling,” Morris Catholic junior guard Kate Feeney said. “It’s been one of our goals all season to go back and we hope to do great things but St. Rose is a great team because they beat Gill (St. Bernard’s) and Gill is so good so it’s definitely going to be a tough game.”
But first the Crusaders had to get through the Blue Wolves (22-6). Morris Catholic last faced Immaculate Conception in the Non-Public North B semifinals in 2012 and won 54-30. On Wednesday, it was more of the same.
“We definitely knew that they were a big team and that they were going to be a tough opponent,” Morris Catholic senior guard Alexa Giuliano said. “Coach (Rich Fachet) just said we had to box out and play tenacious defense and I think that’s what we did. We had good ball movement, we found the open players and I think that’s what really honed in on how we won.”
Immaculate Conception couldn’t handle Morris Catholic’s man-to-man pressure in the first half, and it led to a number of turnovers as the Crusaders cruised to a 34-7 lead at halftime. Samantha Fuehring — the Blue Wolves top scorer — was held to only three points in the second quarter.
“We knew they had that one big girl who was super good and we knew we had to stop her,” Feeney said. “We definitely worked hard doubling (Fuehring) to make sure she didn’t come out and have a huge game, we just had to stop her.”
Immaculate Conception started to figure the Crusaders out in the second half, and switched to man-to-man defense, which threw Morris Catholic off its game for a moment. The Blue Wolves outscored Morris Catholic 16-13 in the third quarter, with Fuehring scoring eight points to get within 48-23 after three quarters. In the fourth, Immaculate Conception really stepped it up, hitting six 3-pointers to close the gap.
“I was so surprised by those threes,” Feeney said. “Those girls can shoot the three, I don’t think we were prepared for that. Their offense started working better, they got past half court and they were shooting so much better than they had, they were just taking more shots in general.”
Down 54-32 with 3 minutes 26 seconds left in the game, Immaculate Conception went on a 10-0 run, including two 3-pointers, to pull within 54-42. Giuliano then went to the line and sank the first of two free throws to push the lead to 55-42, but another 3-pointer from the Blue Wolves cut the lead to 55-45 with 51 seconds to go. Despite the comeback, Morris Catholic kept its composure and made sure Immaculate Conception didn’t get too close. A final 3 with 20 seconds left brought the Blue Wolves within 56-48, but Giuliano and sophomore Stella Johnson each hit a free throw in the waning seconds for the 58-48 final. Giuliano led the Crusaders with 20 points while senior guard Charlotte Schum had 15 points, including three 3-pointers. Feeney chipped in 10 points while Johnson had nine points and six rebounds.
“It’s great,” Giuliano said of the win. “Just to play as a team, we’ve been playing as a team for the past four or five games now and it’s been nothing but beneficial to us so we just have to keep doing what we’re doing and it’ll be fine.”