Nardin’s girls basketball team only knows one speed: fast.
The Gators practiced getting out on the break all week long leading up to the Monsignor Martin Class B championship, and it was on full display Friday night.
With a 49-36 win over No. 2 Park, top-seeded Nardin booked a return trip to New York City next weekend for the New York State Catholic High School Athletic Association semifinals.
Nardin hadn’t won a Monsignor Martin title since 2008 before defeating Buffalo Seminary in last year’s final. Its wait for the program’s fifth championship wasn’t nearly as long this time around despite a new cast of characters.
Junior Lindsay Karas, the lone returning starter from a team that graduated six seniors, scored a team-high 15 points to earn MVP honors. Sophomore Bridgetta Ulrich added 13 points for the Gators, and freshman Katie Kostelny had 10.
“All it means is growth,” Nardin coach Kendra Brim said at Sacred Heart. “All you can do is go up from here. We have a very young team. We start a lot of freshmen and sophomores, so you can only go up from here.”
“We have a ton of new players and players that never played on a basketball team in high school before,” Karas said. “It was challenging to group them all together and get them to a certain level where we could come back like last year to unite as one team to win it.”
Karas and her backcourt mate, Kostelny, were in sync on both ends of the floor against Park. The duo combined for 18 first-half points offensively. Defensively, they deflected dozens of passes and helped force upwards of 30 turnovers playing at the top of Nardin’s half-court trap.
“They feed off each other’s energy,” Brim said. “When one person is down, the other person will step up. That’s what a team means. It’s not a one-player thing.”
The defensive pressure allowed the Gators to set the tone early. They forced three turnovers in Park’s first three possessions and got out to a 10-4 lead. The Pioneers scored the next five points to pull within one, but Karas went on a personal 6-0 run in the last 30 seconds of the first quarter to give the Gators a 16-9 lead.
— Corey Desiderio (@cpdesi1) March 2, 2018
Nine more points got Nardin out to another quick start in the second quarter. Kostelny scored five of those points and then added another five, including a three, to push the Gators’ lead to 32-16 at half.
“Normally that’s our game,” Brim said. “We have very great, top guards. Sometimes we have to tell them to put on the brakes, but today it worked.”
The second half started much like the first with a Nardin steal on the first possession. The Pioneers settled down after that but weren’t able to pull any closer than 13 the rest of the way. A Tkai Smith three-pointer for Park made it 36-23 with 3:45 to go in the third quarter for the closest score since midway through the second quarter.
Nardin took a 41-25 lead into the final frame and kept its distance despite the best efforts of Park’s Ronnie Nwora. The 6-foot-3 junior scored seven of her game-high 17 points over the last eight minutes and was active on the boards.
Ulrich, who’s listed at 5-foot-7, drew the defensive assignment on Nwora most of the night and held her own.
“She doesn’t always know her strength,” Brim said. “We always tell her you’re a very strong player, and we always talk about confidence. One thing we’ve preached throughout the year is confidence, and she showed that today getting on the boards and playing defense and offense.”
— Corey Desiderio (@cpdesi1) March 3, 2018