POTTSVILLE – Patience is a virtue, and the Marian girls basketball team showed plenty of it last night.
After playing what head coach Paul Brutto called his team's "worst half of basketball" this season, it would have been easy for the Fillies to hit the panic button at halftime.
Instead, Marian remained calm and found a way to persevere for a huge 36-34 Schyulkill League Division III victory over Nativity, which puts the Fillies in the driver's seat for the Division III Championship.
With a 13-1 overall record and an 8-1 mark in the League, Marian only needs to win two of its remaining five League games to claim the Division crown.
While the Fillies were certainly happy with the outcome, the process of getting there was a bit turbulent.
After Gabby Green's deuce 22 seconds into the game gave the Fillies the early lead, Marian would go on to miss its next 10 shots from the floor, as Nativity went on a 10-0 run to claim a 10-2 lead late in the first quarter.
Things then went from bad to worse in the second quarter, as Marian missed all 16 of its shots from the field (and five of its six free throws), with the only Fillies point of the quarter coming on an Abby Whildin free throw.
Marian's only saving grace was that Nativity's second quarter performance was just as putrid, as the Golden Girls missed all 17 of their shot attempts, while taking a 12-6 lead into the locker room.
Both teams combined to shoot 0-for-33 in the second quarter and 5-for-55 in the first half.
"We played absolutely terrible in the first half, and only scoring six points is evidence of that," stated Brutto. "We figured we'd be able to get open shots against Nativity's zone defense, which we did. The problem was that we were shooting too quickly and we weren't working the ball around. The whole first half just felt rushed."
From the 7:38 mark of the first quarter until there was 6:17 remaining in the third quarter, the Fillies were just 1-for-30 from the floor, with their only field goal being a Vanessa Whitecavage three-pointer late in the first quarter.
With the Golden Girls leading 14-6, Marian finally caught its big break.
The Fillies went on a 10-0 run (making four of their seven shot attempts) and took a 16-14 lead with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter. Abby Whildin sparked Marian with eight of her team's 14 points in the third stanza, but Marian still found themselves trailing 22-20 with a quarter remaining.
After Nativity's Olivia Andrefski and Marian's Gabby Green exchanged three-pointers to begin the final quarter, the Fillies began to create offense from their pressure defense. Back-to-back turnovers resulted in two Green buckets within the span of 11 seconds and the Golden Girls committed seven of their 23 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
"We're not a very good offensive team in a half court set, so we have to be able to apply full court pressure," noted Brutto. "In the first half, Nativity handled our press extremely well, but in the second half, we were able to rattle them in spurts."
After two Erin Luckenbill baskets tied the game up at 32-32 with 1:49 remaining, Marian patiently worked the ball around to find Savanna Krusinsky wide open under the basket on back-to-back possessions, which put the Fillies ahead 36-32 with 28 seconds remaining.
"In the second half, we were a little bit more patient," added Brutto. "It was just a matter of hanging in there and chipping away. Abby (Whilden) and Gabby (Green) hit some big shots in the second half for us. I'm extremely proud of how the girls gutted out this victory tonight."
Nativity closed the gap to within two points with six seconds left, but turned the ball over on its final possession after rebounding a missed Marian free throw.
Whildin led Marian with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Green added 11. For Nativity (11-6, 7-3), Erin Luckenbill tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Green 5-0-2-11, Whildin 5-4-7-14, A. Fannick 0-0-0-0, Whitecavage 1-0-0-3, Sofranko 0-0-1-0, Nemeth 0-0-0-0, Krusinsky 3-2-4-8, Karnish 0-0-0-0, Holman 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 14-6-14-36.
White 0-3-4-3, Ulsh 1-0-0-2, Andrefski 1-1-2-4, Field 0-1-2-1, Warren 3-2-2-10, Strausser 0-0-0-0, Simons 0-0-0-0, Luckenbill 6-2-5-14. TOTALS: 11-9-15-34.
Marian 5 1 14 16 - 36
Nativity 10 2 10 12 - 34
Three-Pointers: Marian - Green 1, Whitecavage 1; Nativity - Warren 2, Andrefski 1.