The Notre Dame Jugglers have a way of showing up late for a basketball game but opponents are advised not to count them out.
Against the St. Thomas Aquinas Fighting Saints Wednesday night at Notre Dame’s Alumni Gym on Renfrew Street, the Jugglers led briefly early on but trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half. When the clock started ticking in the fourth quarter, the Jugglers narrowed that gap to four but couldn’t close it all the way.
St. Thomas held on and the Jugglers lost 60-64 in the senior girls AA Lower Mainland semi-final.
“We’re called the second-half team and this is what we do,” said Notre Dame coach Tracy Clarke. “We come out strong the second half, traditionally, and we like to assess the other team in the first half. We made a few adjustments and that helped.”
Ranked No. 2 in B.C. through most of the season, the Fighting Saints capitalized on their size advantage down low. They had 22 offensive rebounds, off which they scored 18 points on second-chance baskets.
The Jugglers led 18-14 early in the second quarter, but the Fighting Saints went on a nine-point tear to end the second half with a 26-31 lead.
Notre Dame, an honourable mention and ranked just outside the top 10, relied on outside shooting from Lauren Bondi and Vanessa Pizzolon.
Bondi, a crafty ball-handler who showed how she could pick a dribbler’s pocket, had 23 points and shot four for five from the three-point range. She gave the Jugglers a boost late in the third quarter when she drew a charge and then at the other end of the court, nailed a jumper from beyond the arc.
“She got face guarded and stopped, and I knew they were going to try to shut her down,” Clarke said of Bondi. “She still managed to pop up a couple great shots. She’s always consistent. She’s a true competitor.”
Notre Dame trailed 57-48 after Bondi tipped the ball from a St. Thomas Aquinas point guard and scored a fast-break lay-up.
With 54 seconds on the clock, Pizzolon took the ball inside and was fouled on her drive to the net. The basket was good and her three-point play brought the Jugglers within four. A foul at the other end sent the Fighting Irish to the line and they kept the lead until time ran out.
A win would have secured Notre Dame seat at the AA Provincials. They can still claim a Lower Mainland berth with a win on the consolation side of the draw and a win in a still-undetermined wild-card game.
“With this team, I believe totally can get there,” said Clarke. “That was an awesome game, I’m proud of my team.”