CLAYMONT – The Archmere girls basketball team downed Conrad twice last season. And for most of Tuesday night’s game, it looked like the Auks were going to do it again.
But Conrad unleashed a furious rally, erasing a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes. Eighth-grader Stefanie Kulesza capped the comeback with a steal and layup with 2.6 seconds remaining to give Conrad a dramatic, 45-44 victory.
Kulesza’s sister, Julie, clamped down on an Archmere ballhandler on the Auks’ final trip up the court. Her sister took it from there.
“My sister is a good defender, and I saw she was defending the player really well,” Stefanie Kulesza said. “Her player couldn’t pass my player the ball, so I just came up behind her and stole it.”
It was the second straight one-point victory for fourth-ranked Conrad (5-0), which outlasted Anacostia of Washington, D.C., 53-52 on Saturday in the She Got Game showcase in Bladensburg, Maryland.
Eighth-ranked Archmere (4-1) was coming off a 40-36 win over Villa Maria Academy (Pa.) on Saturday. But the Auks’ first three wins were lopsided, and coach Daniel Pisani thought that might have been costly down the stretch.
“Sometimes when you haven’t played a lot of close games – and three of our games were decided by over 20 – you make some mistakes in those situations,” Pisani said. “That’s on all of us, coaches included, to go back to practice tomorrow and keep working on handling the pressure better at the end.”
Conrad led 10-7 after one quarter, but Archmere started the second period with a 13-3 run. Two free throws by Madison Stewart and a 3-pointer by Emma McCann pushed the Auks up 20-13 with 3:06 left in the half.
Archmere led 23-18 at halftime, and stretched it to 32-19 on Danaziah Brown’s pull-up jumper with 5:07 left in the third quarter. Conrad was getting frustrated.
“They played good defense, and they wouldn’t let us run our offense as well as we can,” Stefanie Kulesza said.
The Conrad comeback began after Amanda Denning’s layup gave Archmere a 43-34 lead with 5:37 to play. Ja’Nylah Whittlesey hit a layup, Alyssa Faville turned a steal into an easy bucket and another steal by Julie Kulesza became a three-point play that pulled Conrad within 43-41 with 1:24 left.
“We’re a resilient group of girls,” Julie Kulesza said. “We always work hard and keep going. We never give up.”
Stewart made a free throw for Archmere with 50.6 seconds remaining. But Whittlesey’s layup pulled Conrad within 44-43 with 14.8 seconds left. Then Stefanie Kulesza turned defense into offense to win it.
“It’s going to help our team know when there’s a close situation, what we need to do and when we need to do it,” she said.
Stefanie Kulesza scored 20 points, including five 3-pointers, and Julie Kulesza added 14 for Conrad. Archmere got 15 points from Brown and 11 from Stewart.
“We’re going to go back, we’re going to look at film, and we’re going to adjust,” Pisani said. “I told the girls, ‘You can’t win a championship in December.’ It’s a loss, we obviously wanted it to go the other way, but it doesn’t change anything for us going forward.”
Contact Brad Myers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ.