Lancers make it when it matters most

Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Paige Uyehara drives to the basket against Cathedral’s Alani Gainer in Friday night’s league game.

For the first three quarters of Friday’s game, the St. Francis High girls basketball team couldn’t make a shot. Layups rolled off the rim and jumpers clanked against the backboard or hit nothing but air.

Despite missing 46 of their 52 shots, the host Lancers entered the fourth period trailing Sacred Heart Cathedral by only nine points due to their dogged defense.

“I kept pleading with them: ‘You guys are working so hard, let’s make baskets and reward ourselves,’” St. Francis coach Sami Pompei said. “I told them, ‘Keep fighting – it will fall.’”

Shots did fall in the fourth, and the Lancers rallied to stun the Fightin’ Irish 48-44. St. Francis shot 7-of-11 from the field and 7-of-9 from the foul line to produce 24 points – the total it had going into the quarter.

“Our willingness to keep driving and taking those shots knowing that one will go in really helped us get a run going,” point guard Paige Uyehara said. “Having that shooters’ mentality really just helped us get that ball through the hoop and break that lid open at the end.”

The Lancers buried three straight shots after Cathedral’s Da’Myiah Lewis hit a jumper a minute into the quarter to give her team its biggest lead at 37-26. Andrea Delphino made a drive, Jessica Oakland drilled a 3 and Mia Grizelj scored from the low post.

“I think (Delphino’s) layup broke the glass lid,” said Pompei, whose team improved to 2-1 in the West Catholic Athletic League and 13-2 overall. “Once she made that layup, it was like, ‘Here we go.’”

The Fightin’ Irish (2-1, 7-6) answered the Lancers’ 7-0 spurt with back-to-back buckets midway through the quarter, but they wouldn’t score again until the final minute. In the meantime, St. Francis went on a 9-0 run featuring a pair of top-of-the-key 3s from Oakland. The second one bounced high off the rim before dropping into the basket, giving the Lancers their first lead at 42-41 with 1:16 remaining.

“My freshman was just fearless,” Pompei said of wing player Oakland, who scored 12 of her team-high 17 points in the fourth. “Pulling up for 3s, getting to the basket – it was fun to watch.”

Cathedral snapped its scoring drought on a pull-up jumper by Talo Li-Uperesa that put her team ahead by one with just under 30 seconds to play. That lead would be its last.

Uyehara, fouled on a drive to the hoop, made both free throws to give St. Francis a 44-43 edge with 18 ticks to go.

“I try not to psych myself out when I get to the line,” said the senior, who totaled 10 points. “I mostly think, ‘It’s just like practice – it’s only you, take your time and trust your shot.’

Uyehara also trusted her defense as Nya Epps went up for a fastbreak layin on Cathedral’s ensuing possession. The smaller Uyehara got in front of her and stole the ball.

“My mindset was, first, don’t foul. We were at six fouls, so it would have sent her to the line,” she said. “When she drove, I just tried to find the ball when she presented it right in front and I went for the strip.”

The Fightin’ Irish had little choice but to foul Uyehara to stop the clock, and she again hit both free throws. This put St. Francis up 46-43 with 11 seconds left. After another Cathedral turnover, Oakland sank two free throws to put the game away.

“That was by far our best win of the year,” Pompei said. “Who thought we could beat Cathedral with 48 points? Other coaches in the league were saying you’ve got to score at least 60 to beat Cathedral. Well, we proved them wrong tonight.”

St. Francis is scheduled to host Mitty 7:30 p.m. Friday.

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