TMLA’s valiant effort falls short

TMLA's Jasmine Nwajei is disappointed at the loss to Nazareth. Photo by An Rong Xu

Mary Louis was on top of the world following its upset of Christ the King.

“We felt like we were unstoppable,” TMLA senior Karin Robinson said. “This team [Nazareth] was just like King. We could beat them.”

For a half the George Mason-bound guard and her team proved every bit of that. The Hilltoppers were up 13 points in the first quarter and held a one-point lead heading to the break. Their grip on the game was already starting to loosen and then Robinson picked up her fourth foul midway through the third quarter and watched Nazareth slowly pull away.

“Karin getting that fourth foul was huge for us,” Mary Louis Coach Kevin White said. “I had to take Karin out of the game. Not having her in the game hurt us enormously.”

An upset was not to be this time around. The third-seeded Hilltoppers fell 50-35 to No. 1 Nazareth in the CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Division I girls’ basketball final Saturday at Bishop Ford. Jasmine Nwajei scored 13 points and Robinson had 12 for TMLA (18-8). Taylor Ford led Nazareth (25-3), ranked No. 13 in the country by USA Today, with 12 points, Bianca Cuevas had 12 and Tiffany Jones added seven.

“They came out strong and our defense got weaker,” Nwajei said. “We fell into the score going up.”

Her team led 14-3 after one quarter and was beating the Lady Kingsmen to most rebounds and every loose ball. Nazareth came flying back and took a 17-16 lead on a Ford putback with 3:43 left before the half, but an Nwajei three-pointer helped put TMLA up 20-19 at the break.

Nazareth led 26-23 when Robinson left the game with 3:27 left in the third after fouling Bra’Shey Ali on a drive. Nwajei buried a three-pointer with the shot clock winding down from the left side to make it 28-26 with 2:51 to go in the frame, but TMLA would never get closer.

Cuevas sparked an 11-2 Naz run fueled by turnovers and an aggressive zone defense that ended with an Ali three-pointer from the right corner to make it 39-30 early in the fourth. Brianna Sidney added another trey to make it 50-34 with 2:24 to go in the game.

“We have to play a very, very good game to beat them,” White said. “I was actually going to show them Georgetown-Villanova ’85, but they would have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Robinson feels the first quarter shows her team can compete right with the Lady Kingsmen after two lopsided regular-season losses. The teams could meet again Friday in the CHSAA Class AA state quarterfinals if Mary Louis beats Bishop Ford in a play-in game Monday.

“We felt what it feels like to be on top of the world,” Robinson said. “We felt what it feels like to be below. We got a taste of both ends, so we should be ready.”

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