CROWN POINT — As Crown Point racked up victory after victory and posted huge margins along the way, senior night against Bishop Noll always looked like one of the Bulldogs' most difficult games.
They're still perfect, though. Times No. 1 Crown Point held off sophomore guard Courtney Blakely and the Times No. 5 Lady Warriors in a 66-59 win to complete a 23-0 regular season.
“The biggest thing is we wanted to win the conference,” CP coach Chris Seibert said. “Going undefeated is kind of an added bonus. Teams are measured by their postseason success, so we've got to win in the postseason.”
Putting together its best season this millennium isn't a bad burden to carry, but it comes with challenges nonetheless. Wednesday's win marked only the fifth single-digit win for Crown Point this season, and some of the Lady Bulldogs' top ball-handlers — freshman Jessica Carrothers and sophomore Alyna Santiago come to mind — are underclassmen.
None of Crown Point's younger players have experienced the crucible of playing deep in the postseason, but they also haven't been a part of the program's recent sectional shortcomings.Will the pressure of remaining undefeated affect the Lady Bulldogs at some point?
“We obviously celebrate that we're 23-0, but we don't really let it get to our heads,” senior captain Ellie VanDeel said. “We don't want to be too cocky, and we know we have tough games coming up in sectionals, so we've got to keep focused on that.”
Bishop Noll made Crown Point work early, but the Lady Bulldogs broke away with a 14-0 run late in the first half. The hosts finally got out in transition after largely being confined to the half court, and VanDeel flew down the court for a pair of layups.
The Lady Warriors answered with a 12-2 run, as Blakely hit a 3-pointer and got fouled on another. Crown Point closed the half with five straight points to take a 38-24 lead into the locker room.
“We were able to turn them over a few times, get some defensive rebounds and get out in transition,” Seibert said. “Our goal was to keep that 10-to-15-point lead for as long as possible, because we knew they weren't gonna break.”
Bishop Noll (18-5) ramped up its defensive intensity to start the second half, although its offense never fully broke out. Blakely did her best to lead a comeback with three long 3-pointers that helped get Noll within five in the last minute, but the Lady Bulldogs settled down to seal the win.
With Lake Station — the second best scoring offense in the Greater South Shore Conference — on the horizon in next Tuesday's sectional opener, the Lady Warriors' defense will need to be sharp.
"I think we still had too many possessions where we had some missed assignments, which turned into missed opportunities for us and, unfortunately, buckets for Crown Point," Bishop Noll coach Vanita Golston said. "But the intensity that we had to start the second half, we need that for four quarters."
Carrothers led the Lady Bulldogs with 17 points, while Lilly Stoddard and VanDeel added 13 and 12, respectively. Crown Point will try to build upon its perfect season by taking its first sectional title since 2001 – Lowell, the host, awaits on next Wednesday.
“It feels really good to know that we have a shot at that,” VanDeel said. “We needed this game to kind of get our heads straight and make sure that we keep working on little things.”