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Higgins, Corcoran help Sacred Heart stun Fontbonne

Much like their namesake, the Sacred Heart Spartans know a little bit about tough odds.

There was that grueling regular season schedule, where they proved they could stand toe-to-toe with even the most established CHSAA girls basketball programs. And then there was the injury that benched senior captain Liz Hauser: a bruised rib turned life-threatening blood clot that coach Marc Von Essen called "the real deal."

Saturday at the Class B semifinal at Staten Island's St. John Villa Academy, though, Sacred Heart (8-13) spun some insurmountable numbers of its own. The Spartans defeated No. 1 seed Fontbonne Hall Academy, 50-26, to advance to the final Sunday at 1 p.m. at Cardinal Spellman in the Bronx.

With one of their leading scorers and only senior confined to the bench, it was Taylor Higgins and Nina Corcoran who provided the necessary spark: combining for 17 points in the first half. The Spartans took a 25-13 lead in the half. Higgins finished with a game-high 17 points, including three from downtown.

Corcoran added 10 and Kristen Brent had 11 rebounds.

"We lost one of our captains and everyone stepped it up," Corcoran said. "Our ball movement was working for us and we were passing really well. The rebounds helped us, too."

Meanwhile, Brooklyn's Fontbonne (15-5) struggled mightily against the Spartan defense, and failed to sink a field goal in the second quarter. Sacred Heart's 3-2 zone stymied the shooting-friendly Bonnies, and, when Fontbonne tried to move inside, the Spartans adapted: switching to a 2-3 zone to deny their dribble penetration.

The heads-up defense led to a 12:01 field goal drought - spanning from late in the first quarter to Dana Distabile's buzzer-beating trey with 4:43 left in the third.

It was a heartening sign, Von Essen said. "Some of our girls are starting to play better. "Kyle Carey, our point guard, seemed to lack confidence. She's starting to get some, and it shows."

It couldn't have come at a better time. Hauser, who spent nearly a week in the hospital, will be unavailable Sunday. If Sacred Heart advances to the Federation, she likely will rejoin the team. For the Spartans, everything past today is gravy.

"This is the fun part," Von Essen said. "We don't know much about our opponents anymore. You just go out and do what you do."

In Sacred Heart's case, that means beating the odds, one game at a time.

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