NEWARK – After losing twice to Ursuline during the regular season, by a combined total of four points, St. Elizabeth was not looking for a repeat performance. But there were the Vikings and Raiders Saturday night at the Bob Carpenter Center, with a trip to the girls’ state basketball championship game on the line, tied at 44 with under a minute to play.
The Vikings, who led by as many as nine points in the contest only to see Ursuline fight back, had the ball under their own net. They had struggled with turnovers and Ursuline’s pressure the entire fourth quarter, but when it mattered most, Sabrina Hackendorn broke free, took an inbounds pass and calmly laid in the deciding field goal in St. Elizabeth’s 46-44 win. Thirty-eight frantic seconds later, after several timeouts, fouls, missed free throws and skipped heartbeats, Brenna Williams’ prayer from 70 feet fell far short of the hoop, and the Vikings celebrated a hard-fought win.
Ursuline, the fourth seed, finished the season 16-6. Top-seeded St. Elizabeth moved to 18-4. The Vikings will be looking for their first title since 2007 and fifth overall.
Hackendorn scored seven points and was part of a balanced St. Elizabeth’s offense. Macy Robinson led the way with 14, and Alex Thomas and Jocelyn Rodriguez each had nine. They helped offset the offensive explosion of Ursuline sophomore guard Adrianna Hahn, who scored a game-high 31 points on 13-of-23 shooting. Hahn also led the Raiders with eight rebounds, three assists, four steals and her team’s only blocked shot.
St. Elizabeth will play Caravel Academy Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Bob. Caravel advanced by defeating Sanford, 48-40, in the first semifinal.
Hackendorn said she couldn’t remember how her game-winning shot unfolded, but coach Tom Ferrier did.
“It’s one of our set plays,” Ferrier said. “She broke free, and there’s a couple different options off of that. One of the options is coming through and shooting the outside shot, but she’s smart enough, and she knew she was being overplayed. If you’re overplayed, you go to the basket, and we made the pass, and she put the ball in the basket.”
After Hackendorn’s shot, the remainder of the game took place like it was in slow-motion, enough twists and turns for most games, let alone 38 seconds. Ursuline’s Laura Hurff missed a three-point shot with 23 seconds to go, followed by successive turnovers by both teams. The Vikings regained possession, but Ursuline needed to commit three fouls to send St. Elizabeth to the free-throw line. Hackendorn missed the front end of a one-on-one, but Gabby Julian grabbed an offensive rebound. Rodriguez was fouled with just over two seconds remaining, but she also missed the one-on-one.
The loose ball went out of bounds to Ursuline with 1.8 left, and after two timeouts by Ursuline coach John Noonan, the inbounds pass went to Williams, whose desperation heave fell harmlessly to the floor. Ferrier breathed a sigh of relief, and the Vikings players celebrated, first on the court, then in the stands with their schoolmates and families. Rodriguez, the lone senior on the roster, took it all in.
“It’s amazing. It was crazy to come in and play a team like Ursuline who we lost to twice in the regular season. To win tonight means more to me than anything because I get to do it with these girls and the fact that we did it against Ursuline is a big accomplishment for us,” she said.
Hackendorn said the Vikings have a tremendous amount of respect for Ursuline, and the nail-biter should have been expected.
“This is the first time since both of us have been here that we’ve beaten them,” she said. “Ursuline’s a great team, they always are. They’re well-coached, and they have great players. We have a lot of respect for them, and it feels so great to beat them. We have one more game coming up, and we have to bring the same intensity.”
Ferrier expects a battle from Caravel, a team he said mirrors his own, with several players who can score. The teams met Jan. 18 at the St. E Center, with St. Elizabeth coming away with a 50-38 win. Ferrier said he doesn’t expect a letdown after Saturday’s big win over a conference rival.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight, we’re going to go to church tomorrow, we’re going to practice after church, and they’ll be ready for Monday,” Ferrier said.
The loss ended a tremendous season for Ursuline, which fell to an in-state team for the first time all season. Noonan said
Early on, the game looked as if it might not be close. The Vikings led, 15-8, after the first quarter and were up by as many as nine in the second. Led by Hahn, however, and their signature pressure defense, the Raiders fought back, leading briefly on two different occasions.
Raiders star Mary Abram did not start due to a sprained ankle, and in the 26 minutes she did play, she lacked her usual offensive explosiveness. She finished with just two points. Noonan said she shouldn’t have even played, but she wanted to and the team needed her.
St. Elizabeth deserves credit for the game they played, he said. “They played a fantastic game. They hit shots when they had to. We certainly wish our sisters in the Catholic Conference well in the final.”
Tickets for the final are $8 and available at diaa.ticketleap.com.