Pius survives test of wills
There were times, particularly late in the first half when Divine Savior Holy Angels was brimming with confidence and holding a 14-point lead over Pius XI, that you envisioned the top-ranked girls basketball team in the state falling hard.
You envisioned No. 9 DSHA stopping the Popes’ decade-long Metro Conference winning streak Thursday night at 158 games. You envisioned the Popes losing their first league game since December of 1984.
The Pius XI players saw a different vision.
“Even when we were down 14 I still wasn’t worried,” said Pius XI guard Jenny Heft, who was just 6 when the current streak began. “I was still very confident.”
The Popes found themselves trailing by nine points at halftime but turned down their emotions, turned up their defensive pressure and made nearly every big play down the stretch en route to a gritty 59-50 road victory.
“You know they are just not going to fold their tents and quit,” a subdued DSHA coach Bill Scasny said. “You knew they were going to make some runs. I think we handled a few of their runs, but the last run we just didn’t.”
The fourth quarter seemed like one huge run for Pius XI, which outscored DSHA by 23-9 to finish the regular season 14-0 in the league and 22-0 overall.
While several players contributed, Heft was the catalyst and closer.
The 5-foot-4-inch junior point-guard scored 21 of her 25 points after the break. Ten came in the third quarter and 11 in the fourth, including four in a seven-second span that put Pius ahead, 54-48, with 1 minute 31 seconds left.
“The shots were open and I was feeling good,” Heft said.
Junior guard Megan Gardner, who was 5 when the streak started, shook off a sluggish first half (two points) to finish with 10. She scored eight in the final quarter, the biggest coming when she stole an inbound pass at halfcourt and hit a layup to give the Popes a 50-47 lead with 3:41 left.
“That was a huge turning point in the game,” Heft said.
Senior forward Anna Basile and freshman guard Kelly Auger both hit big shots and finished with nine points apiece. Senior forward Lisa King added six points.
Senior guard Jennifer Gingrass played a solid all-around game and finished with 16 points and senior forward Barb Seiler added 12 to lead DSHA (11-3, 17-5).
Scasny’s players, who lost any hope of winning a share of the league title when they stumbled Tuesday on the road against Kenosha St. Joseph, shot 43.5% (10-23) en route to a 31-22 halftime lead. But, they slumped to just 33.3% (7-21) after the break, turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions in the third quarter and scored just three points in the last 4 1/2 minutes.
“That was the point where we kind of lost our composure,” Scasny said.
The end came quickly.
Basile’s rebound basket gave the Popes a 48-47 lead with 3:56 left, their first lead since at 2-1 in the opening minute. Gardner came up with her steal and basket; Heft hit a jumper and then a layup for a six point lead with 1:31 left.
Game over. Streak intact.
“I really feel we can beat them,” Scasny said. “One day, we’ll be able to make the plays. Hopefully it will be sooner than later.”
It is a vision that teased Scasny and his players Thursday. It is a vision the Pius XI players can’t accept.
“Honestly, I had no concerns,” Basile said. “I really had total confidence in our team.”
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