By Laura Amato
Emily Engstler wouldn’t come off the court.
Her team needed her and Engstler needed to prove that she can be a leader.
The St. Francis Prep junior proved her point, and then some, lifting the Terriers to a 57-53 overtime victory over St. Mary’s in a non-league CHSAA matchup Dec. 29. Engstler packed her stat sheet with a game-high 27 points, 19 rebounds, four steals and secured her team’s victory with a pair of final-second free throws in overtime.
“We’re the underdogs and when we’re in a game like that, we’re ready to come back,” Engstler said. “Even with three minutes left, Prep has a good spirit. We work together and we played a great game to get the win.”
It was a big-time victory for the Terriers, as the squad rallied a handful of times to keep pace with St. Mary’s. The teams exchanged offensive runs in the third quarter and St. Francis jumped out to a 31-25 lead before the Gaels answered, taking a one-point advantage into the fourth.
St. Mary’s appeared to hit its stride down the stretch in regulation – notching another seven-point run midway through the period – but the Terriers never wavered. Instead, the squad refocused its attention on defense.
St. Francis pushed the ball out in transition, sparked by a strong full-court press and matchup zone and started to claw its way back into the game.
“They love playing our defense, it’s what they get excited about,” Terriers coach Kerri White said. “And they know defense can lead to offense. So that’s what they take pride in.”
Celenia Roberts made it a one-possession game with 47 seconds left and Dorothy Matinale forced a jump ball just 20 seconds later, giving the Terriers another look at the basket. Engstler took advantage.
She found a lane, drove into the paint and rolled the ball off her fingertips, tying the game up with just 18 seconds left on the clock.
“We had a play set up, but the way the ball came up it didn’t really work,” Engstler said. “So I saw a gap and I just thought, I’m going to go to the basket.”
The teams battled back and forth for control throughout the overtime period and the Gaels got a few key buckets from St. John’s commit Kadajah Bailey. But St. Francis Prep kept its composure as the seconds ticked down and, in the end, that was the difference-maker.
MacKalay Scarlett gave the Terriers a two-point lead with 1:11 left after draining two from the free-throw line and Engstler followed up with her own two points from the charity stripe to wrap up the victory.
“I honestly hadn’t been making anything, like any shots at all,” Scarlett said. “So I felt like I was under some pressure, but I wouldn’t let it get to me. I just knew I had to make the free throws.”
It wasn’t a picture-perfect victory and there were a few dramatic moments, but the Terriers hope the performance can be a turning point for the team as the calendar turns to 2017. And for White, it was an opportunity to grab a bit of familial bragging rights as well. Her father, Kevin, is the head coach at St. Mary’s.
“It’s huge for us to be able to overcome,” White said. “It’s big right going back into league play and especially the second half of the season. This is what we want to see. I’m really glad to see that they toughed it out.”