LA GRANGE – Nazareth had it circled on its schedule.
While the Roadrunners have bigger aspirations for how their season ends, a pre-postseason matchup against Class 4A No. 1-ranked Stevenson was a test unlike any other.
After a slow start, a couple of sophomores in Dani Scully and Mary Bridget Wilson gave Nazareth the spark it needed to take down Stevenson, 45-33, in nonconference action Friday night.
Nazareth, who competes in Class 3A during the playoffs, found its footing after falling behind 7-2 early on. Scully scored six of the Roadrunners’ eight first-quarter points and finished with a game-high 17 points.
“I don’t think we were necessarily lacking any confidence, but now going into the state run, we know we can beat anyone,” Scully said. “I think we have the confidence that even when we don’t start strong, we’ll find a way to push through and get the win like we did tonight.”
Scully ended the first half with eight points and got help from Wilson and her other Nazareth teammates on the defensive end. Wilson had three steals off the bench, including two that she finished for layups to help get Nazareth going.
Wilson has embraced her role as first substitute off of the bench and is willing to do whatever it takes when called upon.
“I feel like just because I don’t start doesn’t mean that I can’t have the same intensity that our starters have at the beginning of games,” Wilson said. “I think coming into the game [with us trailing], I just wanted to make a play for my team. Everyone contributed defensively and I think it showed with the turnovers we forced.”
Nazareth (27-2) forced 24 Stevenson turnovers and had multiple other deflections from its extended 2-3 zone Friday night. After scoring nine points in the first 3:11 of action, it took the Patriots (28-2) nearly 10 minutes to score their next nine points and Nazareth’s defense became overwhelming.
“Last week, I told the girls that we needed to make a recommitment on the defensive end,” Nazareth coach Eddie Stritzel said. “I think we’ve relied so heavily on our offense over the last several weeks, that I thought we made a recommitment and were so active on that end tonight. Stevenson is No. 1 in [Class 4A] for a reason. After the first few possessions, I thought we made them work hard on every single possession.”
Stevenson saw its once comfortable lead evaporate into a one-point halftime deficit. That Nazareth lead grew to as many as 12 at the end of the third quarter as Scully’s 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer capped off an 11-1 run.
The combination of timely Nazareth shots and The Patriots’ inability to get consistent good looks against the 2-3 zone made it tough to overcome. Stevenson finished just 2-for-14 from 3-point range.
“You have to give credit to [Nazareth] in how hard they play,” Stevenson coach Ashley Graham said. “There are some things that we tried to do against their extended [2-3 zone] and we practiced it, but then it’s one thing to go against the real thing… They get in the passing lanes and you think there are windows to make passes, but they close so quickly… I think this is a great game for us heading into the state playoff series and I think Nazareth feels the same way. You have to give credit where credit is due and they were the better team tonight.”
Nazareth forced 15 of those 24 turnovers in the second and third quarters, where it outscored Stevenson, 30-15, despite strong performances from Patriots forwards Emory Klatt (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Kate Arne (eight points, four blocks).