SLATER — Shutdown defense carried the Sacred Heart Gremlins to the championship of the Slater Wildcat Classic on Saturday.
The Sacred Heart girls basketball team surrendered just six second-half points on the way to a 53-28 win over the Santa Fe Lady Chiefs.
Holding a slim 24-22 lead entering the second half, Sacred Heart (13-4) clogged the middle of the lane and forced Santa Fe to shoot from the outside. The Lady Chiefs couldn’t generate any offense, and the Gremlins ran away with the game.
Santa Fe’s Danielle Heimsoth scored 10 first-half points in the lane to keep her team close. The Lady Chiefs seemed content to be patient on offense and look for Heimsoth to come open in the middle.
The Gremlins, on their offensive end, faced a zone that surrounded Laura McMullin in the middle, leaving the perimeter open. Rachel Fritz and Debbie Lewis made the Santa Fe defense pay, drilling shots from the outside for Sacred Heart.
McMullin was able to score inside, but most of her points came from offensive rebounds and putbacks.
After playing nearly even in the first half, Sacred Heart coach Shawn Bestgen made several adjustments at halftime that paid off for his team.
“We were hoping we might wear them down a little bit,” Bestgen said. “We were really struggling on the inside, so we made two adjustments. We started to deny 30 (Heimsoth) a little more. Plus maybe an adjustment going with four guards both defensively and offensively.”
Freshman McKenzie Melick was the fourth guard inserted into the lineup and she paid dividends at both ends. Melick, who finished with seven points, dropped into the lane to help with Heimsoth on defense and nailed several outside shots on offense.
With a smaller lineup on the floor, the Gremlins ran a quicker and more patient offense that was rewarded with a lot of open looks at the basket. Kelsey Baldwin, Fritz and Lewis added to Sacred Heart’s balanced scoring as they found openings against the Lady Chiefs.
Even with those four guards on the floor, Sacred Heart did a better job of rebounding in the second half than in the first. By limiting the Lady Chiefs to one shot, the Gremlins continued increasing their lead.
“We were really good in the second half at not giving them second-chance points,” Bestgen said. “They had a bunch of offensive rebounds in the first half, and that’s what was really keeping them in the game.”
Santa Fe was forced to switch out of its zone in the fourth quarter, and Sacred Heart’s offensive patience began to pay off with easy shots. While the Lady Chiefs could not seem to find the basket, the Gremlins had no trouble scoring.
Bestgen was happy with his team’s balanced scoring in such an important game.
“Rachel Fritz had a whale of a night,” he said. “Debbie Lewis played solid and scored some nice jump shots. Any time you get a freshman as young as McKenzie Melick to come in and knock down some shots, that’s good.
“Stephanie Hanlon knocked down a shot in the first half. Devin Wadley has been doing that, too. They don’t give you a lot of points, but they give you that two or four points that in these close games makes a lot of difference.”
McMullin led the Gremlins with 14 points, Fritz had 13, and Lewis added eight.
Heimsoth paced the Lady Chiefs with 12 points, but only scored two in the second half.