Steals key Vikings’ win over Ursuline

By PHIL BARBER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Several factors were working against the Ursuline basketball team Tuesday night, but coach Jeff Paul felt one of them overshadowed all others in his team’s 42-39 loss to Montgomery in the first round of the North Bay League playoffs.

Montgomery's Sarah Fitzgerald, left, and Ursuline's Helen Moses Happ battle for a loose ball. Photo by Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat

The Bears’ 16 turnovers? No, because the Vikings had just as many. An off night by Ursuline scoring leader Jordan Henry? Not really, because the defensive effort against her should have opened up the floor for other shooters.
A change of venue?
Bingo!

Only one activity could push the girls’ team out of its gym at basketball-crazy Ursuline, and that was bingo night at the Catholic school.

The Cardinal Newman gym, site of Tuesday’s game, is just a hop down the road from Ursuline’s, but it’s a whole different proposition. The Ursuline court, quaint and cramped, is — by Paul’s estimation — a good 12 feet short of a regulation gym. This was a home game for the Bears, but it wound up feeling foreign as they had to run more than usual.

“To move from our gym to a bigger floor, it was a little adjustment,” Paul said. “We got in here on Monday, but it was not enough. … Our legs got away from us.”
Montgomery (21-6), fueled by three steals, jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game and never trailed, which is not to say it was an easy game for the Vikings.
Their lead never stretched to double digits, and Ursuline (18-9) cut it to one point on six occasions.

The last of those came with 59 seconds to play, when the Bears’ Hailey Eisenhauer — perhaps better known as a standout on the Ursuline softball team — blasted a 3-pointer to bring the score to 40-39.

Montgomery had a little difficulty bringing the ball upcourt after Eisenhauer’s bucket, but Vikings point guard Sarah Fitzgerald, who had been held to two points at that juncture, delivered a beautiful drive down the lane and a left-handed layup to give Monty a small cushion.
Vikings power forward Anandi Jimenez then intercepted a Bears pass and, after missing the front end of a one-and-one situation, stole another to cement the victory.

Montgomery will play Santa Rosa in the NBL final at Santa Rosa JC this Friday, the Panthers having defeated Maria Carrillo in the other semifinal.
At Cardinal Newman, Jimenez’s rebounding and defense were vital on a night when she was less than dominant offensively. (She scored 11 points.) Of course, she had some good explanations.
Jimenez’s back has been hurting since a loss to Santa Rosa on Feb. 8. She has been icing the back daily and didn’t practice with the team Friday or Saturday.

If that weren’t enough, Jimenez collided with an Ursuline player during this game and wound up with a gash on the side of her head. She left the game, returned with a pink bandage wrapped around her head, but played without the wrapping when it wouldn’t hold tight.
Jimenez was still dabbing blood after the game.

Henry wound up with a game-high 16 points, including four straight in the fourth quarter to bring Ursuline to within 37-36. She had to go 7 of 7 from the free-throw line to get there, though, rarely getting open looks from the field.

In previous games, Montgomery coach Steve Bell usually turned Fitzgerald loose on Henry, one-on-one. It didn’t always work, because Ursuline is so adept at setting picks for its leading scorer. This time, Fitzgerald got more help from teammates, and the strategy paid off.

“On those double-screens that they do really well, instead of me trying to force through it, we were just trying to get switches on them,” Fitzgerald said. “I would just scream as loud as I could, and our player would step up.”

Montgomery, meanwhile, got a big night from sophomore forward Claire Donnelly, who scored all 11 of her points before halftime, and junior guard Victoria Diab, who scored 10 and nailed a couple of key 3-pointers in the third quarter.
After a late three-game losing streak in NBL play, the Vikings feel they have righted their ship just in time.

“We were playing against teams that jumped on us quick. All three of them put us in a hole,” Bell said of the skid. “What we wanted was a good strong start tonight, and I thought we did that. … Our whole thing is, we’re building our confidence and believing in ourselves again.”

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.