MOUNT CARMEL -- Everyone loves an underdog tale, and St. Mary's was no exception to that this weekend.
Despite checking in as the last seeded team of the 2020 Belleville Diocesan Girls Basketball Tournament, St. Mary's ended up making a run to the title following victories over St. Teresa, St. Clare and Holy Trinity.
So when the buzzer sounded on Sunday night it was a jubilant scene for the Lady Rockets.
The Lady Rockets had just claimed the 2020 Belleville Diocesan Girls Basketball Tournament championship with a 39-32 victory over St. Peter and Paul at Allendale School on Sunday night and it was evident how much it meant to the girls, as they celebrated and tears certainly followed.
"Overall it was just a great team effort," Coach Cornelius Walker said. "Every girl did their part tonight, whether it was face guarding, coming in and handling the ball, scoring, rebounds, every girl played their part tonight and throughout the whole tournament."
It certainly wasn't an easy victory for the Lady Rockets, as they scratched and clawed their way to a tough, hardnosed victory over their foes in front of a capacity crowd at Allendale.
St. Peter and Paul went ahead 10-8 after one quarter of play, but St. Mary's started to find their rhythm.
Lady Rockets Nora Jones (four points) and Madison Stevens (11 points) combined for 15 consecutive points for St. Mary's, as they battled to draw the score to 24-23 at halftime following a buzzer-beating layup by Sarah McCorkle.
Walker's team was struggling to contain St. Peter and Paul's best player, who netted 14 first-half points against the Lady Rockets. They'd buckle down on her in the second half however, with guard Kali Walker drawing the assignment and hounding her defensively much of the night. Despite her making a number of difficult shots in the first half, Walker managed to limit her to just four points in the second half.
Coach Walker told his daughter entering the contest that her ability to contain her would be the deciding factor in the contest.
"I didn't want anyone else taking that responsibility, I knew I could control my kid and I knew what effort she was going to give," Walker said. "[Kali] did great. That girl made some tough shots, but I thought all the way around Kali did really good on her and I thought the other girls did good helping her when she was driving. #24 was really good, she's going to be a really good player."
With Walker keeping her under wraps (and handling the ball when Jones fouled out in the fourth quarter), the Lady Rockets started to make their run.
St. Peter and Paul scored the first four points of the half, but St. Mary's responded with a 12-0 run. McCorkle sparked it with a 3-pointer, and then nine straight points by Stevens, who dominated the glass.
Despite a leveled sense of urgency following the run, St. Peter and Paul couldn't find any consistent offensive rhythm against a stifling Lady Rocket defense. They'd hold their foes to just four points in the fourth quarter to pull out the victory.
The crowd on hand cheering on the Lady Rockets certainly played a role as well. During timeouts they'd certainly announce their presence with their resounding chants, chants mostly spurred by the cheerleaders.
Stevens led all scorers in the game with 22 points and added 18 boards and five blocks. For the tournament she posted a 20-20 average and was named Tournament MVP.
"We had Madison step up really big like she has this whole tournament. She's close to averaging like 25 rebound, she did really good. Her ball handling was good tonight in helping us break the press. . . . The individual workouts Madison has been doing have been helping out a lot. She's been patient with her post moves, keeping the ball high when she gets rebounds. It definitely helped tonight."
McCorkle finished with 12 points, Jones had four points, Walker had one point, and Lily Keepes, Chandler Cusick, Jordis Riley and Lauren Fisher all also saw playing time and contributed to the victory.
The Lady Rockets will look to continue their success at Regionals next week. They'll kickstart their campaign on Wednesday against St. Joe at New Hope.
"We've got Regionals starting next week so we really don't get a break. We go in on Wednesday at New Hope against St. Joe. That's where we're headed to now."
STM -- 8 15 10 6 -- 39
STPP -- 10 14 4 4 -- 32