PERU — For a team that hasn’t been in too many tight contests, Princeton senior McKenzie Hecht admitted it was “definitely a little nerve racking” after St. Bede scored the final 10 points of the third quarter to tie the game.
“But we knew our abilities and knew we could come back if we were focused,” Hecht said. “We knew what we had to do.”
The final eight minutes were close throughout, but the Tigresses made key plays in the final minutes to hang on for a 40-36 Three Rivers Conference victory at St. Bede.
“I don’t think it was pretty at all times, but we found a way to fight through and get the energy back on our side after they made a run,” Princeton coach Darcy Kepner said. “I’m proud of the girls for how we finished.”
Hecht came up with several big plays in the waning moments.
After PHS missed a free throw, Hecht grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
She made both free throws to give the Tigresses a 49-46 lead with 22.2 seconds left.
Hecht hauled in another rebound on a St. Bede missed shot and was fouled again. This time she split the free throws with 7.7 seconds remaining to set the final score.
“She’s our leader all the time on and off the floor,” Kepner said. “She stepped up big for us. I knew she was going to get that offensive rebound for us because she wanted it. I could see it in her eyes. I’m proud of her and excited she could knock down those free throws for us at the end.”
Hecht struggled at the line early in the game, making just one of her first five attempts before hitting 3-of-4 in the final 22.2 seconds.
“It was a little nerve racking,” Hecht said about going to the line late. “I don’t have the best free throw percentage, but I’ve been working on it. I’ve been working with my dad. He’s always telling me touch and arch. I really tried to focus on that on the last few.
“It was nice (to make 3-of-4) since it gave us more of a lead and calmed us all down a little bit.”
St. Bede had several chances to close the gap or take the lead in the final minutes but made just 3-of-8 free throws in the final 3:11 and shot 1-of-6 from the field during that stretch.
“We seem to struggle on baskets in the lane,” St. Bede coach Tom Ptak said. “The looks were there. We even got our own rebound on one of them. Those are tough. What else could you ask for than a 3- or 4-footer.”
The teams traded baskets early in the fourth quarter before Olivia Gartin drained a 3-pointer with 4:59 left to give PHS the lead for good at 42-39.
She sank another long-range shot with 2:50 remaining to put the Tigresses ahead 46-41.
“She’s a key player,” Kepner said. “When we need a bucket, we can always count on her. That brought our energy and effort back up. She did a great job for us.”
The Bruins closed within 47-46 when Ella Hermes nailed a 3-pointer and split a pair of free throws on back-to-back possessions before Hecht’s heroics.
St. Bede trailed 29-17 at halftime but got back into the game with a late surge to end the third quarter.
Renn Ludford scored eight points in the final 1:12 of the quarter, including a deep contested 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds left to tie it.
“That brought our spirit back up when we tied it at the end of the third,” Ptak said. “Renn had a couple key 3s. It let them know, ‘Hey, we could win this game.’ When we came in at the end of the quarter, they all had that energy back. It gave them a little belief.”
Hecht finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Tigresses (12-2, 4-1 TRC East), while Gartin had 14 points and Morgan Coleman added nine points and eight boards.
Ludford paced St. Bede (5-10, 3-2 TRC East) with 11 points, while Lia Bosnich contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.
“I’m very proud of the girls,” Ptak said. “We came out with energy in the second half. That made the difference. It was recognizing what we had to do. We knew Princeton is a pressing team, and they’re very aggressive. We prepared for that and I thought we did really well against their press.
“I told them, ‘Do not hang your heads. We played hard. It should tell you you can play with good teams.’ Princeton is a good team. They’re well coached. We should understand when we go there, we could beat them. We’ll be fine. We’re improving.”