The loss was the St. Francis High girls basketball team’s third in a row – and fourth in five games – yet the Lancers didn’t leave the locker room with their heads down Saturday.
That’s because they hung with highly ranked St. Joseph Notre Dame, which escaped St. Francis with a 57-53 non-league win, and they still sport a 12-6 record.
“I think we’re in a better position now than I thought we’d be in,” said Sami Field-Polisso, in her first season as coach. “I’m so happy with where my team is at – I’m ecstatic. They’re starting to buy in and they’re staying positive with me.”
Count guard Paige Uyehara, who scored 16 points Saturday, among the believers.
“I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress from the beginning, especially with making adjustments to a new coach,” the junior said. “I feel as a team we’ve grown stronger.”
The Lancers got off to a strong start against St. Joseph, leading 17-16 at the end of the first quarter. Uyehara scored eight points in the period, draining a 3-pointer, two floaters and a free throw. Post player Mia Grizelj added five points, which included a trey with just under a minute left. The junior totaled 16 points, tying Uyehara for team-high honors.
Points proved more difficult to come by in the second quarter – at least for St. Francis. Outscored 13-4, the Lancers committed eight turnovers (most of them unforced) and missed 10 of their 12 shots.
“Yes, the second quarter really hurt us offensively, but in my mind, I can think of three (defensive) mistakes that we drill in practice every single day that counted in two 3s and a layup,” Field-Polisso said. “That’s eight points – that’s the difference in the game. We can’t have those silly mistakes.”
Guard Zhane Duckett was among the beneficiaries of the miscues and scored 18 points to pace the Pilots (17-3). The speedy junior got to the basket time after time, adding a 3-pointer for good measure early in the third quarter to put her team up 37-26.
“Unfortunately, it took my team too long to understand that she was going to go to her left hand every single time,” Field-Polisso said. “It just took us too long to make that adjustment.”
A pair of free throws by Duckett pushed St. Joseph’s lead back to 11 points midway through the third, but St. Francis refused to fold. The Lancers closed the gap to 45-41 by quarter’s end, burying back-to-back 3s in the final minute. Lydia Foust nailed the first trey and Raveena Dhiman scored the second on a fall-away shot from the right corner after a Pilots’ turnover.
“Coming out of halftime, we came together and said it all starts on defense. If we can get one stop on defense, it leads to offense,” Uyehara said. “Our main focus was to get stops on the defensive end and that would help lead us to our offensive advantages.”
The teams traded treys to start the fourth, with Grizelj draining hers from the top of the key after St. Joseph’s Malia Mastora connected from the right corner. The Lancers wouldn’t get as close as four points again until Dhiman dropped in a pull-up jumper from the middle of the key with 22 seconds left. They took two more shots before time expired, but both missed the mark.
“We went down 11 and fought back – we never gave up,” Field-Polisso said. “I love the toughness, I love the effort, I love the intensity, I love the togetherness. It’s just the fine details we have to work on.”
St. Francis gets back into West Catholic Athletic League play this week, scheduled to visit St. Ignatius 7:30 p.m. today.