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Pressure defense stifles St. Francis in DII title game

Photo By: Town Crier file photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Lauren Johnson, shooting, led St. Francis with 10 points in Saturday’s state final.

After a promising start, the St. Francis High girls basketball team suffered through a dismal second quarter in Saturday’s state Division II championship game. The Lancers never recovered, and Lynwood beat them 39-26 at Sacramento’s Sleep Train Arena.

St. Francis led 8-5 after the opening period, with Lauren Johnson producing the first six points for the Lancers (24-9). The forward drained a 3-pointer off an inbound play, split a pair of free throws and drove for a layin. Guard Daisha Abdelkader scored St. Francis’ final points of the quarter on a drive down the middle with seven seconds remaining.

Lynwood (29-5) and the Lancers exchanged buckets to begin the second period. But after forward Jennifer Lucian dropped in a midrange jumper – providing St. Francis with a 10-7 edge with 7:04 remaining – the Knights took over the game. They scored the final 15 points of the quarter – 10 from the low post – to pull away.

“With 2 1/2 minutes left in the half, it was a 13-10 game. Then they got a putback and two turnovers to make it 20-10,” St. Francis coach Brian Harrigan said. “That seemed to shake our confidence a little going into halftime.”

The Lancers committed five turnovers during Lynwood’s devastating run and missed seven shots, a few of them badly. St. Francis ended the half with 13 turnovers and shooting four of 18 from the field.

The Knights – long and athletic – continued to pressure St. Francis in the second half. Every time the Lancers threatened to get close, Lynwood clamped down on defense.

“We got it to six or seven (points) a couple of times, but we couldn’t get that next basket,” Harrigan said. “There were a lot of contested shots – they forced us to earn every shot.”

St. Francis made just 26 percent of its shots in the contest and set a record for the fewest points scored in a Division II state final. Johnson was the lone Lancer in double figures, scoring 10. Lucian and guard Shelbi Aimonetti added seven points each, with Lucian securing 14 rebounds as well.

The Knights shot just 25 percent, but they had several more chances to put the ball in the hoop.

“We did a good job defensively in the halfcourt, but they got us when we turned the ball over against the press,” Harrigan said. “The offensive boards hurt us; they had a lot of putbacks. All of them go to the boards – even the guards – and they’re relentless.”

Guard Jazmine Johnson led a balanced Lynwood attack with 11 points.

This marked Harrigan’s seventh trip to the state finals – he won four at Sacred Heart Cathedral – and the Lancers’ first. Although St. Francis failed to claim the crown, Harrigan ranks this season among the most rewarding of his long and illustrious career.

“Most people would say we overachieved, but we believed in ourselves and worked really hard,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

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