WINAMAC — The moment was so big, the outcome so unexpected, that even Bishop Noll coach Vanita Golston needed a moment to compose her words after the Warriors pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year Saturday afternoon.
Golston had just watched her team, led by freshman guard Courtney Blakely, jump out to a huge lead over heavily favored North Judson, only to see that lead nearly slip away.
Just when it looked as if the Warriors were about to outgrow their slippers and see the clock strike midnight on their season, Bishop Noll ripped off seven straight points in 43 seconds before going on to win 65-54 in the Class 2A Winamac Regional semifinals.
Golston didn’t want to rush into any bold statements following the victory, choosing to take several moments to soak in the impact of what had just occurred before laying out what had been the mindset for her team all week.
“To some other people, it might have been an upset,” Golston said. “Going into the regional we knew that we still hadn’t played to our potential.”
There were plenty of people who walked out of Winamac’s gym on Saturday afternoon not believing what they just witnessed. The Bluejays (21-3), led by a freshman of their own in star guard Lillian Frasure, came into the game ranked No. 5 in Class 2A and No. 61 overall in the Sagarin ratings. For their part, the Warriors (18-9) were quite a bit further down the list, coming in at No. 25 in Class 2A and No. 158 overall. North Judson’s fan section was filled to the brim, with a boisterous student section chanting “she’s a freshman” every time Frasure made a play. Frasure finished with a game-high 32 points and 15 rebounds.
For as outstanding as Frasure was, Blakely was just as electrifying. The freshman point guard led the Warriors with 30 points, four assists and three steals. Every time the Bluejays made a run, and there were plenty of times throughout the game, Blakely was there for another back-breaking basket.
“It was a battle,” Blakely said. “It was just staying to what I work at, play after play. I wasn’t thinking about an air ball that I just had or a bad pass that I just made. It was just getting to that next play. When we were down, my teammates picked me up and we kept going.”
The Warriors weren’t down often, trailing only in the opening moments when the Bluejays jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Bishop Noll ripped off 12 straight points, stunning the North Judson faithful that were undoubtedly preparing for a long day in Winamac. The Bluejays kept cutting into Bishop Noll’s lead, but it was Blakely that kept the momentum pushing forward, all the way to a 15-point lead late in the second quarter.
Frasure wasn’t going to go down without a fight as the freshman had 16 points by halftime, helping to bring North Judson within 33-24 at the break. The Bluejays got even closer when they cut the deficit to 39-35 midway through the third quarter before Blakely buried a 3-pointer. Again, North Judson made a rally and again it was Blakely with another 3-pointer and a layup at the buzzer to give the Warriors a 47-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.
“We shared the ball and we stayed focused on controlling what we could control,” Golston said.
Frasure had one last surge and the freshman helped bring North Judson to within 49-48 with just over four minutes remaining. Feeling their lead slip away, the Warriors looked to an unlikely source for offense as Rose Fuentes, the player tasked with chasing Frasure all over the floor, calmly knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key to stop the bleeding. Blakely added a flashy assist on a layup by Lalia Rogers and the freshman capped off the 7-0 run with a pull-up jumper that banked in to push Bishop Noll’s lead back to eight points in 43 seconds.
Fuentes finished with 15 points and eight rebounds while Paris Harris added eight points and 12 rebounds.
“Please go in," Fuentes said when asked to describe her thoughts on her game-changing 3-pointer. “They gave me a lot of space and I was able to get the shot off. We had to stay together and play for each other at that point.”