Thursday’s matchup between St. James and Catholic featured a pair of unbeaten teams but neither St. James coach Katie Barton nor Catholic coach Jill Clark felt like their teams lived up to the standard either had set in the first two weeks of the season.
Then again, both pointed out, it was still mid-November.
St. James relied on its experience to gain some control in the second half and hang on for a 59-53 win over Catholic in the Knights’ gym on Thursday night.
The Trojans had an early lead before Catholic forged ahead briefly, then fell behind again 27-24 at the half.
“Honestly, I think we played a pretty poor first half,” Barton said. “I don’t think that we played in rhythm or in sync at all. I think I had some players who got frustrated and we ended up making it through the first half with a three-point lead. I think we made some adjustments at halftime and came out and played a better second half and was able to extend some.”
“I thought we got off to a slow start,” Clark said. “We didn’t seem like we were bringing it. Way too many fouls. We put them on the line 16 times in the first quarter. I didn’t think we were ready to play.”
Catholic, which struggled to hit from the perimeter, used an outside shot to grab a 23-21 lead with three minutes left in the first half, but were outscored 6-1 the remainder of the half. St. James’ top perimeter player, KK Hall, was sitting on the bench in foul trouble and the Knights -- already without center Harper Howell because of illness -- had the same issues with forward Julienne Pharrams and guard Heaven Bailey sidelined with three personal fouls.
“At halftime, we’re only down three and I don’t think we’re playing that good,” Clark said.
“I thought we just survived it,” Barton said.
In the second half, the three most experienced players on the court, all for St. James, began to assert themselves on both ends of the court, with Hall filling passing lanes and coming up with steals to score eight of her 17 points in the second half; Danielle Greene taking charge in the paint and scoring 12 of her season-high 16 points in the second half; and Ava Card driving the baseline and scoring 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second half.
Those three helped St. James (6-0) to a 10-point lead two minutes into the third quarter and when Catholic went on an 11-1 run to tie the game at 37-37 late in the quarter, they went on another run to extend the lead back to 12 points two minutes into the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of them,” Barton said of her team. “We’re going into the (Thanksgiving) break 6-0. I didn’t think we’d start the year like that. I graduated five seniors and my leading scorers last year were 11 points per game.”
Bailey led Catholic (3-1) with 12 points, followed by Andrea Aiken with 11 and Hannah Smith and Allyse Rudolph with 10 points each.
“I’ve got a whole new team and we’re still trying to learn each other,” Clark said. “And we’re young. This is only our fourth game together. I feel good about this team and what we’re capable of.”