Basketball Gaels came up short but stood tall in defeat

It won’t show up in the win column of the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic Athletic Association standings, but the Cathedral Gaels senior girls’ basketball team achieved a victory of sorts on Tuesday (Oct. 15).

The underdog Gaels played a hard, fast and determined style in their 58-29 loss to the two-time defending Ontario Quad A high school champion St. Thomas More Knights. All in all, a commendable performance by coach Michele Vesprini’s Gaels against a team that is significantly taller, more experienced and deeper in terms of bodies on the bench. In addition, the Knights feature two players – Kia Nurse and Haley Brown — who have represented Canada against international competition. Nurse is a key member of the senior women’s national squad.

The Gaels stayed determined in their loss to St. Thomas More (Photo: Gerry Graham)

The Gaels stayed determined in their loss to St. Thomas More (Photo: Gerry Graham)

“We define our victories differently,” said Vesprini, whose Gaels dropped to 1-7 while the Knights improved to 6-2. “Our No. 1 victory is being able to maintain intensity throughout the entire game. The way we start is usually the way we finish. Today, we started extremely well.”

The Knights led 12-4, 25-14 and 41-21 at the quarter breaks.

“We were pleased with our execution,” Vesprini said. “Defensively, we got great stops. We weren’t able to prevent second opportunities, but that was based a lot of the time on height differential. We got our feet in the right spot, but when you’re five to seven inches shorter, it’s hard to get your hands on the ball.”

Cathedral scored 29 points against the defending champions. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Cathedral scored 29 points against the defending champions. (Photo: Gerry Graham)

Nurse and Abbey Clark were the leading scorers for the Knights with 11 points apiece. Erin Burns and Brown added nine and six points, respectively.

Amoney Abakar paced the Gaels with 11 points, while Katrina Collins-Samuels chipped in with nine. Nya Gathoth contributed eight.

“We definitely had our lulls during the game,” said Knights coach Blaize Di Sabatino. “There were times when we definitely did not execute well. Cathedral played a very tough game. They were diving on the floor for loose balls. They had a lot of heart and energy. It was an opportunity for us to have to respond to that.”

According to Di Sabatino, Nurse has made a smooth transition from the Team Canada lineup in Mexico to playing high school ball, as a Grade 12 student, in Hamilton. At 17, she was the youngest player on the Canadian squad which qualified for the 2014 world championships in Turkey.

Said Di Sabatino: “Kia practised with us before she went away (to the recent FIBA Americas championship tournament). We’re trying to minimize her minutes, but she wants to be out there all the time if she can.”

Abakar, a 16-year-old native of Chad, has only been playing rep basketball for the past two years. Prior to that, she spent six years at the house league level. “I was playing against the point guard of Team Canada,” Abakar said with a smile. “Even though we’re not expected to win, we always play to win. We worked hard tonight and achieved what we set out to achieve. We played hard defensively.”

Vesprini praised the Gaels for attempting to execute the strategy the coaches are drawing up on the board. She said her players are starting to trust one another on the court and the coaches are becoming more comfortable putting substitutes in the game at critical times.

“What we’re seeing is a major learning curve for the entire team,” Vesprini said. “They’re fun to watch and fun to coach.’

Elsewhere, the St. Mary Crusaders (8-1) topped the winless Bishop Ryan Celtics, 80-43. And in the upset of the night, the St. Jean de Brebeuf Braves handed the first-place Bishop Tonnos Titans their first loss in nine starts, 46-43, in overtime.

Christina Buttenham, Taylor Randall and Amira Giannatasio tossed in 16, 14 and 13 points, respectively to lead the Crusaders to victory. Reese Mungar replied with 23 for Bishop Ryan. Brittany Roberto, with 11 and Stephanie Sousa, with nine, were the other leading scorers for the Celtics.