It would figure one of the defining plays of the game came down to defense. Much of the success for St. John the Baptist over the years has been because of its pressure defense.
It wasn't present early in the season, but it is now. After Holy Trinity grabbed a missed free throw by SJB, Brianna Thomas stole the ball and scored on a layup with 53 seconds left to extend the SJB lead to five points.
Thomas scored 19 points and Aliyah Smith 12 points for No. 3 St. John the Baptist in a 49-42 girls basketball win over No. 3 Holy Trinity on Friday night in the Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA semifinals at St. Dominic.
"It's intensity on defense," said Thomas, whose steal and hoop made it 47-40. "It was instinct to go get it. We definitely locked down on defense real good. Defense is our main tradition. We picked it up at the right time."
SJB (17-9) will play No. 1 St. Anthony's at 3:45 p.m. Sunday at LIU Post in the championship game. It's a rematch of last season's final won by St. Anthony's.
SJB will play in the final for the eighth time in nine seasons. Holy Trinity (18-8) will play Sacred Heart in a state CHSAA Class A qualifier at 2 p.m. Sunday at LIU Post.
SJB led the entire game and by as much as 11 points in the second quarter. The Titans kept fighting back and Kelly Carey (15 points) hit a long three-pointer with 4:10 left in the game to cut it to 41-38.
The Titans got as close as 42-40 when Katie Poppe hit two free throws with 3:40 left. Poppe scored 13 points, but was limited to just two field goals as Smith followed her wherever she went. Anastasia Williams scored around a triple team with 1:32 left for a 44-40 lead.
"It was a rocky start," Smith said. "We came together lately and we're playing better offensively and defensively. It's coming naturally. We needed to get familiar with each other and for everyone to learn their roles. We knew with patience, we would get where we need to be."