Natalie Stark began the night as a question mark.
She ended it with plenty of answers.
Playing through a sprained ankle that made her status questionable before game time, Stark scored 21 points to lead Holy Trinity to a 63-49 victory over Cristo Rey Brooklyn in the CHSAA Class B girls basketball state semifinals at Monsignor Scanlan in the Bronx on Friday night.
“The ankle was bothering me,” Stark said. “I was just kind of keeping it in the back of my mind the whole time.”
The victory marked another milestone for the Titans, who finished with “no more than two wins” in each of the previous three seasons, according to first-year coach Roger Gaeckler, as they continue their impressive turnaround with a trip to the state final at 3 p.m. Saturday against St. Thomas Aquinas at Fordham.
“I think everyone in the league knows that we’re for real and that we can be a dangerous team” Gaeckler said. “We’re showing that now.”
“Being a senior on the team, we’ve never made it this far,” Stark said. “I’m just very excited to see where we end up going.”
Holy Trinity (9-13) took control in the third quarter, outscoring Cristo Rey Brooklyn 22-13 with a smothering full-court press that led to a series of turnovers and points in transition. A three-pointer from the right wing by Maggie Long capped a 19-7 run and created a 45-29 cushion for the Titans. They maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
“At halftime we realized we needed to step it up and create some space,” said the freshman, who added 17 points. “We just put our hearts out on the floor so we could play again tomorrow.”
Another freshman, Madison Misser, also played a key role for Holy Trinity with 15 points.
Long began the second quarter with a fury, ripping off seven consecutive points over the first 32 seconds and giving the Titans a 19-10 lead at the 6:28 mark of the first half. Cristo Rey Brooklyn responded with an 8-0 run to cut the lead 19-18 with 3:03 left before Holy entered halftime ahead 26-22.
Gaeckler said the message entering the final will be simple, as the Titans seek to take the next step in their turnaround and seize their first CHSAA title since 2005.
“Just go out and repeat what we did today,” Gaeckler said. “Just keep your eyes on the target.”
Stark is ready to provide more answers.
“I’m ready,” she said with a smile. “Let’s start now.”