By Laura Amato
Kerri White couldn’t find it in herself to be disappointed.
The St. Francis Prep coach was sad. She was a little bit frustrated. She wasn’t, however, disappointed.
She couldn’t be.
After all, no one expected St. Francis Prep to be in the CHSAA Class A girls’ basketball tournament, let alone competing for a berth to the state Federation tournament. So, despite the 61-49 semifinal loss to St. Mary’s at Holy Trinity March 12, White wasn’t disappointed.
If anything, she was proud.
“They played hard and they played together,” White said. “They really stuck together at the end of the season and that’s all you can hope for.”
These two teams know each other well. The squads met in the regular season, with St. Mary’s notching a 55-42 home victory. White also happens to be related to the Gaels’ first-year head coach. He’s her father.
Kevin White walked away with a second victory over his daughter this year and while Kerri was less than thrilled to be on the losing end again, she had to admit she was happy for her father and his team.
“It’s definitely different,” said White. “But, you know, I respect what he does and he does a great job with their program. He’s been building it up and they’re going to have a couple of good years. It’s different and it’s difficult to coach against that, but I’ve got a lot of respect for them.”
St. Francis Prep (9-15) surprised the Gaels a bit in the first half, holding strong on both sides of the court.
However, after the Terriers had jumped out to a seven-point lead with just over three minutes left in the half, St. Mary’s responded with a 12-0 run of its own and went into the break with a five-point cushion.
“It turned the tide,” said St. John’s-commit Kadajah Bailey, who finished with a game-high 22 points. “We needed to stop them from scoring. We had to get defensive and offensive rebounds and it was kind of hard, but we were able to do it.”
The Gaels took control in the third quarter, pushing out to a double-digit lead, but St. Francis Prep never lost hope. In fact, the Terriers staged a bit of a late-game rally and cut the deficit to just five points with 4:22 left on the clock.
“I knew [Kerri] would have them ready,” Kevin White said. “I’ve been to about a dozen of their games this year. We run the same stuff. I was trying to explain to my team that they were going to be ready to play and we had to be ready to play also.”
St. Francis Prep would never quite be able to close the gap, though, and St. Mary’s responded with a run of its own, scoring six straight points to seize back a double-digit lead.
From there on out, the Gaels set the tempo of the game and it was fast. St. Mary’s pressured from every angle, attacking in the full court and forcing St. Francis Prep into quick passes and less-than-ideal shots. By the final whistle. the Terriers had racked up 18 turnovers.
It was enough to set St. Francis Prep back on its collective heels and secure a state final berth for St. Mary’s.
“When we want it, we can fight, but we have that one major drawback and everyone kind of crashes sometimes,” said SFP senior forward Sofia Recupero, who finished with a team-best 15 points. “No one believed in us, but I really feel like we showed everything we had and I’m so proud of every single one of my teammates.”
There were more than a few tears shed on the sideline once the final buzzer sounded. This St. Francis Prep team, which beat Nazareth in a play-in game to get here, will graduate seven seniors. But their season represents a major step forward for the program.
“It’s good because it gives the program some momentum,” Kerri White said. “This class has come so far. They’ve gotten better and we just hope to continue to grow the program.”