One of the Final Four
FULTON — Being down 14-0 during the first quarter of a football game doesn’t signal the end of the world, but being down two touchdowns in a regional title basketball game is not an ideal place to be, especially when you’re playing against No. 1 Marquette.
Behind strong all-around performances from their star duo of Emma Nolan (14 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals) and Sophia Nolan (16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three blocks and a steal) and four 3-pointers from Claire Salyer, the top-ranked Blazers (25-2) cruised to a 57-25 victory over Fremont in the Class A Caston Regional final on Saturday night. That advanced them to next Saturday’s La Porte Semistate against No. 4 Northfield (25-2) at noon.
“This one does feel great because it was once again a total team effort,” Marquette coach Katie Collignon said after the win. “Everyone stepped up today, did their role and contributed. It’s more enjoyable when everyone has a piece of it.”
The Blazers got off to another rugged start against the Eagles in the early going, but similarly to their win earlier on Saturday against South Central, it was their 3-point shooting and lockdown defending that put them in prime position to dominate the action all day long.
″(Emma and Sophia) did an excellent job on the defensive end,” Collignon said. “We’ve been talking to them about playing that kind of defense all year because then we can just keep them on the court. It’s like, ‘You’re 6-foot-2. Make someone shoot over you.’ They did such a good job today moving their feet, getting deflections and they did a great job of getting their teammates involved on the offensive end.”
After going scoreless in the first half of the first game partly due to early foul trouble, Emma Nolan scored six points, while sister Sophia made both of her shot attempts in the period. Morgan Crook continued her hot shooting with a 3 to help the Blazers jump out to a 14-0 advantage, forcing Eagles coach Scott Sprague to burn two first-quarter timeouts. If it wasn’t for a Bella Dangerfield (nine points) triple with about 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the Blazers would’ve pitched a shutout in the opening period defensively.
“They make my job very easy,” Collignon said of her bunch. “When we’re knocking down shots, our offense flows and we look really good out there. I have to be so proud of our defense because to almost not give up a point in the first quarter, and then, not give up a point in the third quarter is huge. We were kinda down on our defense at halftime because I think we had a couple lapses that we didn’t have in the first game. We were super fortunate, though, because both teams played similar defenses and we were really prepared and ready to go on the offensive end.”
Despite somewhat of a push from the Eagles in the second that saw them score 12 of their 15 first-half points, the Blazers caught fire from deep, specifically Salyer, who cashed home three 3-pointers in four attempts. That pushed a 14-point lead a smidge further out at 32-15 heading into the locker room. Salyer’s offensive rebounding was a bullet point in the morning semifinal while Crook drained six triples, and in the nightcap, it was Salyer’s turn to rip the nets up from deep. Marquette made five 3s in the quarter (and nine for the game), with Sophia Nolan and Dia Rallings canning the other two makes.
“It definitely got my confidence up,” Salyer said after seeing a couple shots go through the rim. “It helped her, too. We (Salyer and Crook) both know that we’re gonna miss some of them, but if we shoot enough of them, they’ll eventually start going in.”
After coming within a few seconds of shutting Fremont out in the first quarter, the Blazers kept it off the scoreboard in the entire third period. The Eagles missed all six shot attempts in the third, both free throw attempts, and wouldn’t find a tally until there was 5:20 remaining in the final stanza when Katie Berlew (six points) split a pair of free throws to end Marquette’s 21-0 second-half run.
“It feels like last year again,” Salyer said on her team’s dominant two-game performance in Fulton. “We’ve definitely come into all this strong and we all feel pretty ready for what’s coming. We’re excited.”
With the victory, the Blazers will play in the Final Four for the third straight year after their 73rd victory in 83 total games under Collignon and sit just two wins away from becoming the first team since Fort Wayne Canterbury from 2011-13 to win back-to-back Class A state titles.
“We just have to continue our focus every single day,” Collignon said on her team’s chances of winning another title. “We have to focus on the defensive end. We have to focus on the task at hand, along with focusing on playing well one through twelve. If we’re doing exactly what we all need to do, we’ll show up ready for next weekend and hopefully, go back-to-back.”
Class A Caston Regional
No. 1 Marquette 57, Fremont 25
The Blazers win their third straight regional title on the back of 30 combined points from Emma and Sophia Nolan.