AURORA – Danielle Goering hadn’t so much as practiced with the Rosary girls basketball team, but the freshman found a way to make her presence felt at one of the season’s most dramatic junctures.
Deadlocked with rival Aurora Central Catholic with about 3 minutes to go Thursday, Goering made four crucial free throws and had a key assist in the closing minutes as the Royals fended off the Chargers, 47-40.
“We told her, ‘Welcome to varsity,’ ” Rosary coach Jessie Wilcox said.
Rosary (7-9, 2-2 Suburban Christian Conference) wasn’t a deep team to begin with and became less so last month after losing leading scorer Megan Conlin to an ACL tear. Add in plenty of foul trouble in Thursday’s game, and Rosary needed a fresh face or two to step forward.
Goering did just that. Her two free throws with 2:47 to play gave the Royals the lead for good at 40-38, and Goering had the assist on a crisp passing sequence beginning with Quincy Kellett and ending with a Taylor Drozdowski layup to make it 42-38 Rosary with 1:13 left.
Goering had been with the sophomore team until receiving a promotion in the nick of time.
“Yesterday we practiced with the sophomores and we saw a lot of good energy coming from her, especially on the defensive end,” Wilcox said. “We brought her up. She hasn’t even practiced with us. … We threw her in against ACC, and some girls are game players, and some girls are not. That’s a game player.”
It was a matchup made for hard-nosed players, as fluid possessions were a rarity and bodies crashing into one another – and onto the floor – were commonplace.
Free throws piled up, and ACC (8-7, 2-2) converted only 4 of 17 on the night. Rosary struggled from the line at times, too, but saved its best shooting for the fourth quarter, when the Royals drained 11 of 14 attempts.
“I think toughness won that game – not just physically, but mentally tough,” Drozdowski said. “That’s what our coaches stress to us all the time, you’ve got to be mentally tough, and I think it really showed through during this game.”
In addition to his team’s woeful foul shooting, ACC coach Mark Fitzgerald also lamented guard Gabi Alfaro’s overly aggressive attempt to corral a missed free throw that turned into her fifth foul. At the time, the Chargers only trailed by two, but without Alfaro, the Chargers faded in the closing minutes.
“She’s a key player for us,” Fitzgerald said. “Her sitting on the bench didn’t help.”
ACC trailed, 14-3, after the first quarter before surging in the middle stages of the game, taking four different leads in the fourth quarter.
Despite the Chargers’ rally, Fitzgerald thought several choppy sequences were not representative of his team’s quality.
“Honestly, I’ve got two girls graduating and that’s it, so we’ve got a long time to work together,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re going to do it one way or the other before we’re done, or I’m going to die trying, let’s put it that way. Because they’re too good to play like that.”
Forward Alex Horton came off the bench to lead ACC with 10 points.
Kalie Soris added nine points, while Natalie Droeske (12 rebounds) and Alfaro both scored six points before fouling out.
Kellett led Rosary with 17 points. Drozdowski added 13 and Rachel Choice had 11 points and eight rebounds.
Despite ACC wielding a size advantage, Rosary outrebounded ACC, 38-25.
“If we’re going to continue to shoot poorly, we have to get [on the glass] and get more and more opportunities,” Wilcox said.
Wilcox saluted Kellett, Choice and Emily Bakala for each playing the full 32 minutes without dips in their effort.
“That’s the kind of leadership that we need,” Wilcox said.