As the Cardinal Spellman defenders overpowered Kellenberg, so did the nagging thoughts. It's too late. The deficit is too big. This time, they're just too good.
"We definitely got negative," Candace Belvedere said. "People were talking to each other and we were bringing each other down. We tried to pick each other up in the locker room . . . We picked it up in the middle, but it was too tough to get back."
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Despite spurts of solid play by Kellenberg, the Pilots, led by junior Maria Backman and a stifling 2-3 zone, proved too consistent and too overpowering -- defeating the Firebirds in a decisive 79-52 victory Friday night in the CHSAA Class A semifinal at St. Dominic.
Cardinal Spellman (19-8) hosts Brooklyn's Nazareth in the final at 5 p.m. Saturday.
"Rebounding was a major factor," Kellenberg coach John Heitner said. "It looked like they hit every three-point shot they took, they went small to counter our bigs, they spread us out on the floor and they didn't back down . . . Today, they were the better team."
Kellenberg (11-11) took an early lead in the first four minutes of play, but the Pilots closed out the first quarter on a 9-2 run -- a lead that ballooned to 34-19 on Teresa Tartarone's layup with 40 seconds left in the first half. Spellman had out-rebounded the Firebirds 18-6 at the break, and dictated the pace despite four first-half steals by Belvedere (16 points).
Backman "is long and active," Heitner said. "She did a good job. We had a few zone sets and even when we could get the ball inside, she was limiting us to one shot. It felt like every time [Belvedere] was touching the ball, there were two people on us."
That constant swarm limited Kellenberg to 11 points in the second quarter and 12 in the fourth. The Firebirds did draw to within 10 in the third, but an 8-0 run that included a Backman four-point play quashed hope of a comeback. Backman finished with 22.
"We had open girls but we struggled to see where the people were," Belvedere said. "I think that if we had moved the ball a little sharper, then we would have had a completely different game."