Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
Saturday, the Fatima girls basketball suffered its first loss of the season at the hands of St. Joseph Benton in the first round of the State Farm Holiday Hoops Invitational.
Sunday, Lady Comets coach Dustin Hays wanted to see how his team would respond.
Behind Morgan Brandt’s 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting, Fatima was able to bounce back with a 58-48 win against the Jefferson City Lady Jays in a loser’s bracket semifinal.
The Lady Comets did have to get past a rocky beginning. With 1:20 to play in the first quarter, the Lady Jays led 8-5, thanks in part to seven Fatima turnovers.
The Lady Comets answered with a 18-1 run.
“I think we got off to a slow start, and eventually we kind of got into our rhythm,” Hays said. “I think our press started working for us a little bit. It kind of got us in rhythm a little bit more, and I was pretty pleased with how we came out and how we responded.”
A Leah Kesel bucket with a second to play in the second quarter gave Fatima a 27-16 halftime edge, but the Lady Jays wouldn’t go away quietly.
Nicole Martin, who didn’t take a shot in the first quarter and made just 1-of-6 in the second, appeared to be on a mission after halftime, scoring 11 of Jefferson City’s 19 points in the third quarter. She finished with a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds.
“(Martin) had a great game for them, came off the bench and really provided a spark for them,” Hays said, “and we couldn’t really contain her in that third quarter, and it got them back in the game.”
The Lady Jays got within one point twice in the fourth quarter, but never were able to get over the Fatima lead, which reached as many as 14 points in the first half.
“It’s kind of two-sided,” Hays said. “Yes, I’m upset that we let that lead slip away, but I’m also excited that we kind of regrouped, and … we were able to hang onto the lead.”
Fatima sunk its final three field-goal attempts and its last 10 free throws to ice Jeferson City.
“What I was really pleased about is we were able to execute down the stretch,” Hays said. “We haven’t really executed our sets very well in this tournament. We were finally able to do that in the last two minutes.”
Brandt finished with a double double, pulling down 10 rebounds in addition to her 20 points — both team highs. Sammey Bunch scored 10 points for the Lady Comets.
Second to Martin’s 20 points were Megan Foster’s 12 for Jefferson City. The Lady Jays actually out-rebounded Fatima, 25-24, and the teams matched each other’s turnover total with 14.
The two teams tied at 19 in a 12-minute exhibition in November’s Jamboree, also held at Helias High School.
Hays wasn’t surprised at the tight outcome Sunday and reiterated the experience in the tournament will pay off later in the season.
“This is why we come here,” he said. “We don’t see a team that plays as good of defense as St. Joe Benton really in our regular-season schedule, and we don’t see a team with as much athleticism as Jeff City.”
The second-round win was an improvement for the Lady Comets, who lost the first two games of the tournament last year before winning their third game.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hays said. “I just told the girls, to come into to this tournament and have a chance to win two games with this type of competition I think is really good for us, and we have that opportunity. We only won one last year, (and) we definitely want to come out of this with two wins this year.”
Fatima will have to get past Alton to do so. The fifth-place game tip off at 4 p.m. today at Rackers Fieldhouse.
The Lady Jays face Eureka at 2:30 p.m. today in the seventh-place game.