The Sacred Heart High School girls basketball team put a scare into powerful Gill St. Bernard's School on Monday in their South Jersey Non-Public B semifinal game in Gladstone, Somerset County.
Sacred Heart led in the final minute of overtime, but Gill St. Bernard's, a Tournament of Champions finalist last year, pulled it out 59-55.
The third-seeded Lions (21-8) were led by 6-foot-2 junior Kennedy Johnson, who hit a jumper just inside the key with less than two minutes left to put Sacred Heart up 55-53. The lead held until less than 50 seconds remained. The Knights forced turnovers for two baskets and clinched it on two free throws with 6.2 seconds left.
"We were big underdogs and nobody but us believed we could win it," Sacred Heart coach Steve DiPatri said. "We executed our game plan to the best of our ability. They got the best of us, but we walked out with our heads high."
Gill St. Bernard's star Taylor Rooks, a 6-1 junior, led all scorers with 31 points, including six in overtime. She also had 13 rebounds and four steals.
"Taylor Rooks is being recruited by Stanford," DiPatri said. "We had Mandy Buirch guarding her and she worked her. Kaila Smith had the best game of her career. We tried to make all of their possessions difficult, and we made the most of our possessions. We played great, and it was a great high school basketball game."
Johnson led Sacred Heart with 16 points, including eight in the second quarter and five in the fourth. Smith, a 6-1 freshman, added 13 points, and Buirch scored 10 points, including five in the third quarter.
"Coach had a game plan and got us ready, and we played really well," said Johnson, 16, of Galloway Township. "I'm proud of the team. We went further than people thought, and nobody expected us to make it close. Mandy did a good job on Taylor, and we all had to help her. Kaila played well, and I got some putbacks."
Also for the Lions, Alyssa Ferrucci had nine points, including seven in the second half. Ciani Carter finished with seven points, including a basket in overtime.
Smith scored five points in the second quarter and the Lions trailed 30-28 at halftime. The score was tied 42-42 after three quarters as Ferrucci and Buirch each hit 3-pointers. Both teams had possessions in the final 15 seconds of regulation but failed to score, and it was 51-51 after 32 minutes.
"It was a great game. The adrenaline was really flowing," said Smith, a 15-year-old Millville resident. "I was nervous at first, but after I kept playing, it all went away. Nobody expected us to win. We were determined to win or to give a good effort, and we did that."
Second-seeded Gill St. Bernard's (23-4) will play fourth-seeded Trenton Catholic at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Jackson Liberty High School for the South Jersey Non-Public B championship.
Contact Guy Gargan:
Sacred Heart 10 18 14 9 4-55
Gill St. Bernard's 16 14 12 9 8-59
SH-Buirch 3 3-3 10, Carter 3 1-4 7, Smith 5 3-4 13, Ferrucci 3 2-3 9, Johson 5 6-6 16. Totals 19 15-20 55.
GSB-Bennett 3 0-0 8, T. Rooks 11 9-11 31, Sina 30-0 6, Kramer 3 0-0 7, Whitehead 3 0-0 6, M. Rooks 0 1-2 1. Totals 23 10-15 59.
3-pointers-Buirch, Ferrucci SH. Bennett (2), Kramer GSB.
Records-S.H. 21-8; GSB 23-4.