Host St. Paul’s ended its regular season with a thrilling 55-54 victory over Dulaney, but it was much bigger than a tough tune-up against a local public school rival for the IAAM B Conference basketball tournament which starts on Friday, Feb. 9.
This was senior night for Grace Boyce and Sophia Wilkinson who came into the program together as freshmen on the varsity.
“It’s our last home game and we are best friends and we’ve been best friends since freshman year, so it’s kind of sad to see each other go, but it is exciting and our whole team was so supportive and that helps ease the nerves and we have confidence in each other and in ourselves,” said Boyce, who had two points and two assists in the first quarter.
Wilkinson had the first two points of the game, with 40 seconds elapsed, and she finished with 17 points.
St. Paul’s coach Pat Conrad, whose squad improved to 11-6, praised the experienced duo for what they gave to the program.
“Unbelievable careers,” he said. “Their leadership just really solidifies the program. They’ve been on varsity for four years and we’ve had an influx of new players, players leave, players go, but the one constant is Grace and Sophia on the team every single year.”
They were honored with kind words from their coach and teammates before the game and then went out and battled for loose balls, mixed it up on the boards and made critical shots.
“They understand what it means to be a Gator, hard work, hustle, never-quit attitude and they really kind of helped the team get into the right culture as they came into the program,” Conrad said.
Boyce and Wilkinson knew the feeling of being the new kids on the court and they welcomed the challenge to give back as they grew with the program.
“Coming on the team as freshmen and being on a team with seven seniors was intimidating a little bit at first, but I think for us, they set such an amazing culture that they made us feel so welcome and I know for me ever since, we’ve been trying to maintain that culture and take what they gave to us and give that to the younger girls that come in,” Wilkinson said.
“We definitely got the shots, but we missed a ton of shots in the paint though, but rebounding has been our strength all year,” Dulaney coach Jessica Szymanski said. “Akirra, Lyd, Julia, it doesn’t really matter who is in, they crash the boards hard.”
Dulaney turned an 18-17 lead into a 24-17 advantage late in the first half on baskets by Naughton, White and Pullen, but the Gators closed the half with a 6-1 run on three-pointers by Sawyers and Wilkins.
White scored 10 points in the third quarter and reserves Riley McWilliams and Gabrielle Knight made three-pointers and the Lions had a six-point lead early in the fourth quarter.
Sawyers made a trey from the top of the key and Ava Wax canned a three-pointer with 5:14 remaining to tie the score at 43-43.
A three-pointer by White was answered with a trey from Sawyers and the game was deadlocked at 46-46 with 3:27 left.