WHEATON – For three-plus quarters, the St. Francis girls basketball team was playing catch-up after runs in the first and third quarter spotted Aurora Christian double-digit leads.
Luck finally turned for the Spartans as a few timely 3-pointers fell and the St. Francis defense forced five Eagles turnovers late to help the Spartans earn a gritty 50-47 win.
“That’s the first game that we finally finished; we’ve had a lot of games like that we’re we’ve come out slow and have had to catch up,” St. Francis coach Mike Phillips said. “Tonight we did a really good job against a really good team. We switched up the defense in the second half and I think that was the difference.”
Aurora Christian (12-11, 4-4 SCC) sprinted out to 10-point leads at the start of each half, forcing St. Francis to change defenses in the third quarter to thwart the Eagles’ efficient half-court offense.
Down 33-23 midway through the third quarter, St. Francis sagged back into a 1-2-2 zone that frustrated the Aurora Christian offense and allowed the Spartans to push the ball up the floor on rebounds and steals.
The defensive switch corresponded with the Spartans (9-12, 3-6) holding the Eagles to a pair of field goals over the remaining 2:30 of the third quarter.
Reagan Sproat’s 3-pointer with three seconds to go in the quarter pulled the Spartans’ to within 38-35.
St. Francis senior Caroline Pins banged home a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to give the Spartans’ their first lead of the game at 40-39.
The Spartans ramped up their defense thereafter, holding the Eagles without a field goal for nearly four minutes as St. Francis took its biggest lead of the game on a Kasprak 3-pointer with 3:43 left, giving the Spartans a 45-41 lead.
Reigning SCC Player of the Year Alyssa Andersenwas held scoreless in the second half after a 12-point first half until she pulled Aurora Christian within 47-45 with 1:16 to go.
Turnovers proved to be the difference over the last minute of the game as the Eagles had a chance to tie on several occasions.
The final turnover came with the Eagles trailing, 50-47, with six seconds to go. Pushing the ball at half court, freshman Mia Mazza picked off a pass and ran out of the clock.
Mazza led all scorers with 17 points, 12 coming in the second half.
“Last time we played them we had a pretty devastating loss. We were tied with them at the half and we ended up losing by 18,” Mazza said. “We all just kind of got it in our heads that we were going to beat this team. We had a 1-2-2 in the last half and our coaches just told us to keep an eye on Andersen the whole time and I think we did a pretty good job of it.”
In the first half, Andersen had a stretch of three straight field goals that pushed Aurora Christian’s lead to 13-3 in the early going.
It was St. Francis’ defensive effort in the second half – which included limiting Anderson to no field goals until the last minute of the fourth quarter – that played a big role in the Spartans’ getting back into the game.
“We didn’t give up we just had some turnovers in key moments, give them credit,” Aurora Christian coach Jerry Tokars said. “They got amped up and this is a game of momentum. Some times it works for you and some times it doesn’t. We went up 10-0 and the next thing you know they’re hitting 3’s.”
Along with Mazza, Kasprak (14 points) was big in the second half with a late 3-pointer while Sloane Baumgartner and Sproat knocked down free throws to preserve the win.