Holy Spirit High school girls basketball coach Larry DiGiovanni would be thrilled if every game went like Wednesday's against Sacred Heart.
After a tight first half, the Spartans watched a 12-point third-quarter lead over Sacred Heart shrink to five with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
The Spartans, No. 4 in The Press' Elite 11, regained control, forcing fouls and hitting 5-of-6 late free throws to pull away with a 48-37 win in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference contest.
"This was a good game between two good teams," DiGiovanni said. "I'd rather be in this type of game all 25 nights than be in games that aren't as intense."
Though the Spartans (4-1) never trailed, neither team was able to maintain control in the first half.
Holy Spirit senior Joanna Persiano hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter to give the Spartans a 14-10 lead, the largest of the game up to that point. Sacred Heart's Ally Ferrucci, who led the Lions with 12 points, responded on the next possession to cut the lead back to a basket.
Brittany Harden tied the game for Sacred Heart (4-1) with a shot two minutes before halftime. Dana Reimers scored with a minute remaining to send Holy Spirit to the locker room with a 21-19 lead.
Persiano exploded in the third quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 17 points. The senior, one of the Spartans' strongest scorers, was held to five points in the first half.
"I came out flat, which was exactly what I didn't want to do. I kind of had a fire in my (behind) to start the third quarter," said Persiano, who also had two assists and two steals.
Seven of Persiano's third-quarter points fueled a 12-0 run that put Spirit up 31-19.
"We made a couple of adjustments in our man offense that spread the floor a little bit more," DiGiovanni said. "Instead of setting the ball screen high, we set it a little lower to open up the floor so we could drive."
Holy Spirit guards Persiano, Tenisha Mobley (nine points) and Sarah Marakos did a good job controlling the ball in the second half. But Sacred Heart once again proved its resilience in the fourth quarter.
Harden, a sophomore, hit a pair of baskets that brought the Lions within five. Holy Spirit called a timeout to reassess the situation.
"I was a little nervous when I saw it was 37-32," Persiano said. "I didn't think they would come back that quick."
Although Sacred Heart is a young team, the Lions have proven they have the capability to win with their backs against the wall. They beat Paul VI in December after being held scoreless for seven minutes.
Emily Bell, who came off the bench to score 12 points, hit a pair of foul shots to push Spirit's lead back to seven. But Sacred Heart answered back with a Leah Braidi layup.
The Lions' youth may have caught up with them late in the fourth, when turnovers and fouls enabled the Spartans to extend their lead. Some last-minute changes helped Holy Spirit hold on to the lead until the buzzer sounded.
"We were banking on them throwing the ball away at the end," Persiano said.
Holy Spirit and Sacred Heart are early favorites in the CAL National Conference. The Spartans have an experienced, talented roster. The Lions entered the game unbeaten.
"Whenever we get together, it's always one of these kinds of games. It was great. That's what makes all the practice worthwhile," DiGiovanni said.
Contact Brittany Grugan:
Sacred Heart 10 9 5 13-37
Holy Spirit 11 10 12 15-48
SH-Jamieson 3 0-0 8, Braidi 2 1-1 5, Harden 5 0-0 10, Ferrucci 5 1-2 12, Buirch 0 2-2 2. Totals-15 4-5 37.
HS-Marakos 1 4-4 6, Reimers 3 0-0 6, Persiano 6 4-6 17, Mobley 3 3-4 9, Bell 2 6-8 10. Totals-15 17-22 48.
3-pointers-Jamieson (2), Ferrucci SH; Persiano HS.
Records-Sacred Heart 4-1, Spirit 4-1.