Sacred Heart players celebrate their win over St. Mary's for the CHSAA...

Sacred Heart players celebrate their win over St. Mary's for the CHSAA girls basketball title at Farmingdale State College on Sunday, March 3, 2024. Credit: Derrick Dingle

“Everybody loves an underdog.”

It’s what the quartet of starting seniors on the Sacred Heart girls basketball team agreed Sunday heading into the NSCHSAA championship game against top-seeded St. Mary’s.

The No. 3 seed Spartans had already fallen to the Gaels by more than 10 points twice this season and St. Mary’s was looking to secure its third consecutive championship crown.

But Sacred Heart didn't want the odds in its favor anyway.

“There was no pressure on us,” senior Haylee Ellwood said. “When there’s no expectations, you can focus on yourselves and believe in what you can do. They won twice and we weren’t going to let them win a third time, especially here.”

Ellwood's six third-quarter points helped Sacred Heart take a lead it never relinquished in a 39-29 win over St. Mary's at Farmingdale State for the Spartans' first championship crown since 1997.

Sacred Heart will face Fontbonne Hall (Brooklyn) in the state Class A semifinals at Cardinal Spellman Friday at 7 p.m.

St Mary’s, which was classified as an AA school based on its undefeated record in the league, will face Christ the King (Queens) in the state Class AA semifinals at Holy Trinity Friday at 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve been staying positive this entire season saying we’re going to win the championship and it just came true,” said senior forward Annie Kiernan, who scored 11 points after hitting the 1,000-point career mark in Friday's semifinal win. “We wanted this so bad, and we worked so hard for it.”

Both teams applied upfront pressure out of the gate, which affected each team's ability to find rhythm offensively. Neither team held more than a four-point lead until a few minutes into the third quarter, when Ellwood’s three-point play gave Sacred Heart (16-9, 13-4) a 28-26 lead and the spark they were looking for.

“Defense was key the whole game," said senior Emma Frohne, who led the Spartans with 14 points. "We never stopped rebounding hard and once we spread them out and made it hard for them to trap [us], it was easier to take the shots we wanted.”

Sophomore forward Destiny Robinson scored 15 points for St. Mary’s (18-9, 12-1), which won by an average of 28 points per game this season but was held to five points in the third quarter on Sunday. It trailed 31-26 entering the fourth quarter, and Sacred Heart wasn’t going to let it get back into it.

“We hung there with them in those regular season games so we knew we could win,” Ellwood said. “We just had to bring everything we could today and prove that the underdogs were mighty enough to do it.”

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