Crusaders carve first notch against Knights

The showdown in Steeltown has begun.

Kicking off a season-long battle for bragging rights, the visiting St. Mary Crusaders defeated the St. Thomas More Knights, 43-31, in Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association senior girls’ basketball action on Thursday night (Sept. 26). The Crusaders are the two-time defending Ontario high school champions at the Triple A level while the Knights captured top Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association honours at the Quad A level in 2011 and 2012.

The traditional powerhouse squads are both entered in the same Hamilton tournaments this weekend and next. Last season, St. Mary won four of six meetings against More, including the HWCAA championship.

“It’s definitely fun to play against them,” Crusaders’ centre Christina Buttenham said. “It’s always a challenge. They are tough games.”

Christina Buttenham, who lead the Crusaders with 14 points, brings the ball down the court. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Buttenham, vying for her fourth straight OFSAA title, says she will miss the intense competition against More when she leaves next fall to begin a basketball scholarship at University of Iowa. “I play with some of the same people (either on club, provincial or national teams) I play against during the season.

“I guess we bug each other about who wins, but it’s nothing serious.”

Buttenham led all scorers with 14 points as the first-place Crusaders improved their record to 5-0. With the loss, the Knights fell to 2-2. It should be noted, however, More is temporarily without the services of Team Canada senior women’s player Kia Nurse. Elsewhere on Thursday, the Cardinal Newman Cardinals evened their record at 2-2 with a 39-37 decision over Bishop Ryan Celtics (0-4) and St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves (2-3) topped the winless Cathedral Gaels, 46-37. Bishop Tonnos Titans (4-0) were idle.

The Crusaders started fast in the second half when, on three consecutive plays, Buttenham scored a putback basket, blocked a shot under her own basket, and then banked in a short jumper at the other end.

More’s Hailey Brown (5) – a member of Canada’s Cadette team – was matched up against Buttenham. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

“We knew coming in we were the underdogs,” said Knights’ Grade 9 centre, Hailey Brown. “We were playing without Kia.”

A 6-foot-2 member of Canada’s national Cadette team, Brown was suiting up for the first time against the Crusaders. She scored 12 points and was matched up much of the time against the slightly shorter Buttenham. “(Christina) can do everything,” Brown said. “She can dribble and she can shoot. And she’s not afraid to go into contact and finish the basket.”

The Crusaders, who led 13-5, 24-14 and 38-25 at the quarter breaks, also got eight points by Hilary Hanaka, six by Amira Giannattasio and five by Ally Brandt. Abbey Clark chipped in with seven points for the Knights.

St. Mary coach Rich Wesolowski wasn’t particularly pleased with his team’s performance.

“On offence,” he said, “I thought we were just a bunch of individuals. We weren’t playing together as a team. You’ve got to take good shots and share the ball. Hopefully, our kids will start to gel and figure out what we need to do.”

Sandwiched in between the two tournaments hosted by St. Mary and More, Wesolowski’s Crusaders take on the unbeaten Titans in league action.

In other HWCAA girls’ basketball games, the Cardinals scored a two-point win over the Celtics on a tie-breaking basket with two seconds remaining. Newman was ahead by 10 points in the fourth quarter before Bishop Ryan regained the lead.

Alyssa Cerino and Cayley Shaw-Linger were the top scorers for the Cardinals with 14 and 10 points, respectively. Brittany Roberto, with 12 first-half points, and Stephanie Sousa, with seven overall, paced the Celtics attack.

The Torosantucci twins – Cierra and Alyssa – combined for 18 points and created havoc defensively to spark the Braves over the Gaels. Crista Sebastiani added 10 points for the winners.

A highlight for Cathedral was the 21-point performance of Amoney Abakar. She made four steals, was 4-of-4 from the free-throw line and connected on 3-of-3 from behind the arc.