The St. James girls basketball team (2-0) had their backs against the wall when they faced off against Fatima on Thursday, Nov. 30.
St. James was down 39-37 as the clock inched towards zero, but Savanna Riccetti banked in a three with 1.9 seconds left to lift the Lady Tigers to victory.
"I was just thinking 'oh goodness are we gonna get that? I don't know if we're gonna get the rebound, I don't know if it's going to go in,'" said Riccetti of her game-winner. "I was just curious to see what would happen."
Head coach Terry Wells was glad to see his junior guard step up to hit some big shots, as Riccetti hit two big threes down the stretch.
"I'm not sure that she called bank on either of those, but I also know we couldn't throw the ball in the ocean all night, so we were due to have a couple to fall," said Wells. "In a tight games, whoever makes the plays is going to win."
While this game came to a thrilling end, it took a while for either team to get into an offensive rhythm. The game was held scoreless for the first four and a half minutes before Fatima's Katelyn Plassmeyer hit a pair of free throws. St. James got on the board about 30 seconds later when Hannah Marcee made a layup to tie the game at two.
There wasn't much offense to be found throughout the quarter thanks to some stellar defense, which the Lady Tigers kept up for most of the contest. Their high energy level on defense led to turnovers, but offensively, it led to some hectic play that caused some turnovers of it's own. As a result, the first quarter ended with St. James trailing 8-6.
The offenses picked up in the second, as the Lady Tigers nearly tripled their point total from the first quarter. Quinn Paulus and Marcee led St. James with four points a piece in the second, while Riccetti hit her first three of the contest. The St. James defense held strong in the second and they led by as many as four points in the quarter. Fatima hit a jumper as the half ended, but St. James still held onto a 21-19 lead at the half.
The third quarter looked a lot like the first, as both teams struggled to hit from the field. St. James had the upper hand with eight points in the quarter and continued to play excellent defense by allowing just five points to carry a 29-24 lead into the final frame.
St. James started to show their youth a bit in the fourth quarter, as their five point lead shrank until Ally Bonnot sank a three to give Fatima a 30-29 lead. Fatima went on a tear for the next few minutes, stretching their lead out to seven points. As the clock started to wind down, the Lady Tigers started to shift into gear. The comeback started when Bailey Wells took a big charge from Courtney Wolfe, which gave possession back to St. James. The Lady Tigers took advantage on the other end with a jumper from Ashlynn Rinehart, which cut the deficit to 36-31 with 1:33 left in the game.
St. James fouled on Fatima's next trip down the court and the Lady Comets came up empty at the free throw line. That's when Riccetti banked in her first three of the quarter to cut the deficit down to 36-34 with 34.3 seconds left. St. James fouled again, but Bridget Holterman hit both of her free throws to stretch the Fatima lead back out to 38-34. As the clock was winding down, Quinn Paulus fired a three from the corner. The shot missed, but Ashlynn Rinehart grabbed the rebound and went back up with a shot. The shot fell and she was fouled, giving her a chance to cut the lead to one at the free throw line. The junior forward buried the free throw, cutting Fatima's lead down to 38-37 with 20 seconds left to play.
Riccetti came up with another huge play on the defensive end by forcing a turnover, but Riley Whitener turned the ball over after a long pass from Riccetti, so the ball was back in Fatima's hands. St. James elected to foul to save some time on the clock, sending Gina Stegeman to the charity stripe. The Fatima junior missed the first, but made her second shot, so St. James trailed 39-37 as the clock was winding down. Fatima seemed to think St. James would look to tie the game, which left Riccetti wide open behind the three point line. Her shot banked off the backboard, then swish for the game-winning three with 1.9 seconds off the clock. Fatima tried to get up a final shot but failed and St. James walked away victorious.
Riccetti was glad to be the one to take that final shot. In the past, St. James has had players like Devin Fuhring or Kenzie Guese to turn to in those situations, but the Lady Tigers don't have a superstar to take that final shot, so they need to find new players to step up.
"I think it's kind of exciting to play a different spot this year, not just handling the ball the whole time," said the junior guard. "I just like being in charge more...it was very exciting, especially on our home court."
The Lady Tigers slumped a little bit to open to fourth quarter, but they locked things down when they needed to. Coach Wells was glad to see them figure out how to close out a tough ball game against an experienced Fatima team.
"For all but the last 45 seconds of the fourth quarter, Fatima's experience was the difference in the game. They made plays to not only get back in the game and I just had a bunch of kids that weren't making any plays. They were stagnant and had no real sense of urgency," said coach Wells. "But then at the end to see them bounce back, make some plays defensive, see a couple shots fall and see their excitement and how happy they were, that's why you do this."
Riccetti's two big threes down the stretch helped her lead the team in scoring with 12 points. She added two rebounds, two steals and an assist in the victory. Not far behind her was Marcee with 10 points, as she scored St. James' first four points of the game. The freshman forward added four rebounds and an assist. Her fellow freshman Bailey Wells had a strong all-around game with five points, a team-high 11 rebounds, six assists and two steals. Ashlynn Rinehart also added five points and six rebounds. Quinn Paulus and Mikaela Donnelly each added four points. Paulus also pulled down five rebounds, had three steals and one assist, while Donnelly had six boards, an assist and a steal.
While the big shots down the stretch will get a lot of well-deserved attention, St. James wouldn't have been in the position for that game-winning three if they hadn't played fantastic defense all night long.
"They actually played so well defensively," said coach Wells. "That's a team that's scoring 60-something points every night and to hold them to 39, defensively we were awesome."
The Lady Tigers are still very early in their season, so they have a lot of lessons left to learn, but figuring out how to close out games is a big one. The key is that this young team continues to learn and get more experience every night.
"Every game is going to be a learning experience, no matter how young and inexperienced or good you are," said the St. James head coach. "We learned every game last season and we were pretty darn good. We'll learn every game this season and the quicker we can get them to see and learn what we want, the better off we'll be."
The Lady Tigers will have the weekend off before hitting the road for the first time this season with a trip to Cuba on Monday, Dec. 4.