NEWARK – Playing first off the bench in basketball often fills a void for a team throughout many different scenarios.
Newark junior guard Emily DiClementi has starred in that role quite well so far this season – none better than her sixth-girl performance during the Norsemen’s 47-43 victory over Hinckley-Big Rock on Thursday evening to open the Little Ten Conference season.
DiClementi climbed off the pine in the opening minutes and eventually tallied a team-best 11 points, including a 10 foot-left wing jumper with 1:20 left that turned out to be the game-winning basket, as the Norsemen held off the Royals in the waning seconds.
“It was the heat of the moment, and I just knew I had to make it even though coach [P.J.] McKinney told us not to shoot unless it was a layup,” DiClementi said. “But I was trusting myself, so I went up, shot it, and I just knew it was going in. I just felt it like I have other times off the bench this season, so I was glad to help get us a big conference win.”
DiClementi’s bucket put Newark up 45-40 before H-BR closed to within 45-43 with 10 seconds to go.
But sophomore call-up guard Gwyneth O’Connell (nine points) – playing in her first varsity game – calmly swished a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds to play after a hectic scrum that took some agonizing minutes for the referees to iron out in order for the Norsemen to taste victory.
Newark (3-2, 1-0) also received 10 points and six rebounds from senior K.J. Friestad, eight points off the hands of junior Taylor Kruser along with six points and a whopping 14 rebounds from senior Kellie Snyder, who has been a rebounding machine through five games, matching her season average in boards.
“Kellie has been amazing rebounding the basketball this year, and I can’t really keep her off the floor because she’s so tough on both ends of the court,” McKinney said. “But Emily was so huge tonight, and right now I have her off the bench, and after a timeout I told the girls I wanted only layups or free throws. But she made a 10- or 12-footer, and I was glad she took the shot after all. We need players like Emily, and she was great for us as a sixth man once again when we needed her.”
H-BR (6-1, 0-1) suffered its first loss of the season after getting a dynamic performance from senior Ashleigh Wackerlin, who produced a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds, while junior Devin Werner (10 points, 10 rebounds) and senior Morgan King (seven points) were the only other Royals to score in the contest.
But H-BR turned the ball over 32 times, which proved to be its undoing.
“We want to play fast but without that many mistakes, and unfortunately in a tight game like we had with Newark tonight, I think all of our turnovers was the difference,” H-BR coach Doug Brewington said. “Give Newark a lot of credit for finding a way to pull it out in the end. But I’m proud of our girls, and I have a feeling we’ll see Newark again down the road.”
The Norsemen led 11-10 after one quarter before DiClementi hit a top-of-the-key 3-ball at 3:55 and a deuce from the right wing at 1:25 to put Newark up 20-18. Wackerlin then put down a pair of free throws before halftime to pull the tally on the scoreboard even at 20 apiece at the break.
DiClementi added a bucket early in the third stanza before O’Connell and Wackerlin went back-to-back with triples at 3:05 and 2:15 that resulted in a Newark 29-28 lead. But Friestad and Kruser connected with respective baskets at 1:50 and 19 seconds to go in the period that gave the Norsemen a 33-28 lead entering the final quarter.
Wackerlin tried her best in the fourth quarter scoring eight points to pull H-BR to within three before DiClementi’s big bucket and O’Connell’s free throws sealed the deal for Newark.
“It was a great win being able to hold on like that at the end,” DiClementi said. “This game just shows what we can do if we all play together like we did tonight.”