Crusaders clutch up late, beat Westview
Down the stretch, as Westview drew closer and the game their team needed grew later in the fourth quarter, Jesuit's veteran, state tournament-tested backcourt stepped up huge.
As a result, the Crusader girls basketball team came up with a win that could start the sort of streak that sends Jesuit back up the Metro League standings.
In the fourth quarter, with Wildcat juniors Kamryn Jones and Shawnice Uwase coming right at the Crusaders, Jesuit senior Amyr Lowe and junior Anna Fanelli made crucial plays in crunch time and helped guide the Crusaders to a 41-37 road win over Westview on Jan. 10.
"We just tried to calm down the team in general as guards," Lowe said. "We let (Jesuit) know we're fine. Sometimes we just try to do a lot. As veterans, we had to calm everybody down. We were being strong with the ball, being smart, that was important and helped us stay in the game."
Westview fought valiantly in its first game without the services of star junior guard Nicole Flennaugh, who was sidelined with a right knee injury. Without their game-changing sharpshooter, Jones, Uwase and other Wildcats such as Yu Ishii and Macie Lewis all upped their offensive forcefulness and overcame two seven-point deficits in the second half to keep Westview within striking distance. Down 34-25 early in the fourth quarter, Westview fought back to within 36-34 with three minutes to go thanks to jumpers from Jones and Uwase
"We realized that we didn't have Nicole, so we had to make up for that with more effort and more fire," Jones said. "I think we did that for a good part of the game, but not at the end. Without Nicole, everyone just has to be a little bit scrappier and people who don't score as much need to step up and score more for sure. That's probably the biggest change."
Fanelli and Lowe, who played key roles on Jesuit's last state tournament team two years ago, have played in their fair share of big games with high stakes. When Fanelli was a freshman, she came off the bench against Canby in the Class 6A fourth-place game and flawlessly handled the Cougars' hounding defensive pressure while applying her own brand of defensive mastery. Lowe is a left-handed playmaking dynamo who's battled back from a torn ACL that sidelined for her entire junior season. She is Jesuit's only senior who has reinvented herself as an essential, calm-handed sixth man.
The southpaw plays with a surefire confidence and a poise that allows her to rise to the occasion in the critical moments. Lowe is in her third year as a varsity player, somebody her younger teammates can look to for leadership.
"These girls are like my little sisters," Lowe said with a smile. "I'm always looking out for them and have their best interests at heart. I make sure nobody's left behind on the team. I don't try to control anybody. I just want to use my experience to help them out."
They've been through the Metro wars before. And that familiarity was never more apparent than when it came time to close out Westview in the fourth. Lowe flicked a left-handed laser pass to Kailynn Tuck for a layup to start the fourth quarter that gave Jesuit its biggest lead at 34-25. But then, Westview went on a 6-0 run, spurred on by a pair of turnovers and Jones and Uwase taking the game into their control with deft drives and tough finishes inside.
"I thought we had real good sportsmanship and team harmony out there," Jones said. "I think if we stay positive and cheer each other on and don't get on ourselves because maybe we can't score as much, then we'll be fine as a team. And, we'll keep growing and getting better."
But as Westview got within two, Fanelli dropped a quick, fast right-to-left crossover to get loose in the lane and scooped home a lefty offering to extend Jesuit's 38-34. Another Tuck hoop off Jesuit's fullcourt press gave the Crusaders a 40-34 lead with 1:36 left.
Yet, an over-and-back call on the Crusaders gave Westview the ball back and Ishii cashed in with a three off a ball screen to cut Jesuit's lead in half, 40-37, with 40 seconds to go. Westview switched out of its 2-3 zone into a fullcourt trap, hoping to knock the ball free from Jesuit and get a chance to draw closer or equalize the contest. However, Fanelli, Lowe, Tuck and sophomore Taylor Freeman cleanly weathered Westview's pressure, passing out of double teams, playing keep away, speed dribbling out of trouble, ensuring the ball never stuck as Westview chased them around the floor for 30 seconds, fruitlessly trying to force a turnover. It wasn't until the 10-second mark that Westview began to foul. And with only three team fouls called on Westview, six more seconds salted off the clock as the Wildcats frantically tried to get in the penalty. And when Tuck was fouled with four seconds to go, she made the front end of the one-and-one at the free throw line to give Jesuit a 41-37 lead.
"I thought we all played really well together and stayed calm under pressure," Fanelli said. "Being in those types of situations, having that experience of knowing what you have to do: if you have to score, hold (the ball), read the defense...it's really beneficial."
Tuck missed the second free throw, but it didn't matter as Jesuit led by four escaped with the win. The sophomore forward was terrific, scoring five of her eight points in the fourth. Fanelli scored four fourth-quarter points and Freeman led the Crusaders with 10. The Crusaders' poise in the fourth quarter, led by the moxie of their hardened veterans, pulled through.
"Everyone's there for each other, everyone looks up to each other," Fanelli said. "We all know what our positions are and what our roles are on the team. I think we worked really well together."
Lowe said Jesuit shifted its determination level in the second half from a team that was going through the motions to one that hunkered down in winning time. Jesuit led 18-17 in a first-half grind that only had three second-quarter field goals combined between the two teams. It was a half that wasn't particularly pleasant offensively but was filled with defensive stands, hustle plays, battles on the boards and second-chance opportunities. Jones scored eight points in the first half. Jesuit concocted plenty of open looks, but only cashed in a trio of three-point shots in Westview's cavernous home gym against a scrappy Wildcat 2-3 zone defense.
"It just came down to competing," Lowe said. "In the beginning of the third quarter (Westview) start to out-compete us...but I think we just played harder."
"We had a lot of effort, but we had to combine effort and focus together in order to get the job done and play to our full potential," Fanelli added.
In contrast to Westview's recent unlucky bill of health, Jesuit has its full team back and healthy for the first time all season. Fanelli, who missed most of the non-league slate with a broken elbow, has reassumed her role as the Crusaders' starting point guard. All 12 of Jesuit's players were in action at practice this week, setting the stage for a potentially long string of success. After losing back-to-back games against Southridge and Beaverton, Jesuit could feasibly win its next five games over the next three weeks or so. The win over Westview was a solid first step.
"Now that we have all of the pieces, we just have to put them together and get the job done," Fanelli said. "Westview is a good team that gave a good effort and our effort was just that much better."
"We definitely missed Anna and her experience when she was gone," Lowe said. "It's great to have her back. This is the start of something more. We had to get a win in to make it a more consistent thing."