By Laura Amato
The Mary Louis Academy coach JoAnn Arbitello stood in front of her team Sunday evening and detailed a brand-new defense, certain they’d pick up on it almost immediately.
She didn’t, however, describe it during a practice or even on the bus before a game. She explained the triangle-and-two defense in the locker room, just moments before the Hilltoppers were set to tip off against Baldwin in the Rose Classic Super Jam at Nazareth High School.
TMLA rolled to a 63-52 victory over the Bruins, sparked by the brand-new defensive approach.
“We bought in. That’s really it,” junior point guard Jordan Nixon said. “We wanted to win this game, she said triangle-and-two and we took it for what it was. We have a lot of smart girls who know how to play basketball.”
The Hilltoppers didn’t get off to a perfect start, though, as Baldwin jumped out to a 16-13 lead after the first quarter, but as soon as TMLA settled into its defense, the squad hit its stride.
Mary Louis set the tempo from that point on, working the ball in transition and finding Danielle Patterson on the block. The senior forward was nothing short of dominant in the first 16 minutes of play, sinking baskets despite facing double and triple teams.
“Danielle is a big part of the offense and I think getting her out in transition is big,” Arbitello said. “She’s getting so much better at that. We’re knocking down shots.”
Patterson, who was named a McDonald’s All-American just hours after the victory, racked up 17 points in the non-league matchup. But as the game continued, she wasn’t the only Hilltoppers’ star sinking baskets.
Nixon and Kania Pollock also hit their scoring-stride in the second half, combining for 21 points in the final two quarters.
“I learned to look to my teammates and if they were coming down on me, I kicked it out to them,” Patterson said. “I know if I don’t have it inside or I’m doubled, I can kick it out and have confidence that they’re going to make that shot.”
Baldwin did its best to claw back into the game, but TMLA had an answer for each Bruins basket.
TMLA never looked flustered – despite the brand-new defensive scheme – and the Hilltoppers fed off each other’s energy on both sides of the ball, settling into a rhythm the squad has been searching for all season.
“I’ve said before, our expectation level is so high because of the players that we have and I just think that there had to be a certain point where we start playing like those players,” Arbitello said.
It was a strong performance for the Hilltoppers, particularly after coming up short against borough-rival Archbishop Molloy Jan. 11. Now, TMLA is hoping to keep the momentum going, looking to hit its stride heading into the tail-end of the regular season.
“There are going to be those times when we have to face some adversity and it’s about how we’re going to deal with it,” Patterson said. “Are we going to lay down and take it for what it is or are we going to fight? We chose to fight.”