The St. James girls basketball team faced off against Fatima for third place in the Comet Classic on Thursday, Jan. 10. The Lady Tigers were thrown curveball after curveball in the game and they couldn't quite get enough offense going in a 34-26 loss.
Scoring was hard to come by all game long for both teams, but St. James and Fatima matched each other shot for shot early. Neither team led by more than three points in the opening quarter, as both teams took their time with long possessions to control the clock. St. James finished the first with a layup by Mikaela Donnelly, cutting the Fatima lead to 10-9, but it came at a cost. Donnelly went down hard on the play and missed the entire second quarter. She returned in the second half, but only saw limited action.
The Lady Tigers were dealt another tough blow early in the second quarter, as Bailey Wells left the game struggling to breathe. She has struggled with asthma throughout the season, but it kept her off the court for the rest of the first half and forced her to the bench for long stretches in the second half. With both Donnelly and Wells sidelined, St. James struggled to score. The Lady Tigers scored just two points in the quarter on a layup from Riley Whitener with 1:17 left in the half. Luckily, the St. James defense was excellent, which kept them in the game. Fatima only managed four points in the quarter, carrying a 14-11 lead into the half.
Fatima hit a three early in the third quarter, but points were still hard to come by as the second half stated. That three was the only basket for either team in the first four and a half minutes, as Ashlyn Rinehart grabbed an offensive rebound and scored with 3:31 left in the third quarter to cut the Fatima lead to 17-13. Whitener followed that with a jumper just inside the free throw line to cut the deficit to two. After a Fatima basket, Rinehart knocked down a three to cut the score to 19-18, before Katelyn Vanderfeltz hit a three for Fatima. That gave the Lady Comets a 22-18 lead with a quarter left to play.
Fatima scored the first four points of the fourth quarter to give them a comfortable cushion for most of the final frame. The Lady Tigers kept grinding, but couldn't close the gap. Fatima led by as many as nine in the fourth. St. James finally got an offensive spark with less than a minute left to play, but they were short on time. Aly Bullock scored four points in 10 seconds, starting with a free throw with 38 seconds left. She then got a quick steal and buried a running three with 28 seconds left to bring the score to 31-26. St. James couldn't get any more offense going after that, though, and just ran out of time in a 34-26 loss.
Despite the loss, head coach Terry Wells continues to be proud of how hard his girls fight. Despite the fact that St. James had three players with four fouls - Rinehart fouled out in the final seconds - and two players dealing with injuries, the Lady Tigers refused to quit against a tough Fatima team.
"I've been proud of a lot of kids and a lot of teams and this is as proud of a feeling as I've had as a coach in the 15 or 16 years of coaching," said coach Wells. "I'm really proud of them."
As always, St. James played excellent defense, but coach Wells is hoping they can use that defense to help jumpstart their offense.
"Yeah, we're a great defensive team, we've just got to turn that into some offense," said the St. James head coach.
Ashlyn Rinehart finished the game with 12 points to lead St. James. She also grabbed a pair of rebounds, had a block and a steal, all of which helped her earn a spot on the All-Tournament team. Whitener and Bullock each added four points, with Whitener also grabbing four rebounds, a steal and an assist, while Bullock had four blocks, two rebounds, two assists and a steal. Wells had two points and two rebounds, while leading the team with seven steals. Savanna Riccetti had two rebounds and a steal. While she was limited in the third place game, her consistent play all tournament earned her a spot on the All-Tournament team.
This marks the second straight tournament with a fourth place finish for St. James. While the Lady Tigers were looking for higher finishes, coach Wells knows these tournaments are helping forge this team for the more important tournaments at the end of the season.
"My kids are telling me they hate tournaments, that's where all of our losses come from, but I said Districts is a tournament, so is the State Tournament," said coach Wells. "This is all in preparation for that. Our schedule is going to prepare us for that and we've just got to continue to stick together and fight and everything will be all right."
Next up for the Lady Tigers is a trip to Owensville for a Four Rivers Conference matchup on Thursday, Jan. 17.