Bambies bite back

  • Jones (left) is guarded by Ryan sophomore Shannon Glenn, who led the Ragdolls with 14 points.

  • Price is one of six seniors on the St. Hubert roster, joining Elizabeth Jones, Megan Reilly, Kelly Riley, Gina Cocci and Maria DeRentz.

  • In front of a raucous, sellout crowd, Caroline Price (left) and the Bambies won an overtime thriller against rival Archbishop Ryan. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

Car­oline Price had been car­ry­ing the scars for more than a year.

Not scars from a nasty fall, cut or car ac­ci­dent, mind you; no, these scars were more men­tal, psy­cho­lo­gic­al even. For ath­letes, los­ing a last-second game to a hated ar­chrival leaves long-last­ing scars, which is of­ten twice as vivid and pain­ful than any phys­ic­al mark left on one’s body.

Price, one of six seni­or head­liners on the St. Hubert bas­ket­ball team, trudged out of Arch­bish­op Ry­an’s gym on Jan. 8, 2013, a one-point loser, the byproduct of a back­break­ing jump­er with 15.6 seconds left that gave the Rag­dolls a 48-47 vic­tory. She and her team­mates had to wait 13 long months for a shot at re­demp­tion, and they prom­ised them­selves the res­ult would be dif­fer­ent this time around.

Price was in­deed cor­rect, but not without a few heart pal­pit­a­tions first. After the second of her two free throws found the bot­tom of the net with 11.4 seconds left in over­time at the Bam­bie Dome on Fri­day night, Price and every­one else could ex­hale. The Bam­bies found vin­dic­a­tion in the way of a come-from-be­hind, thrill­ing 58-53 vic­tory over the Rag­dolls on Seni­or Night.

Fi­nally, the scars were gone.

“I vividly re­mem­ber how I felt after that game, just the low­est I’ve ever been in my en­tire life,” said Price after scor­ing 11 points, one of five Bam­bies in double fig­ures. “Go­ing in­to to­night, I knew I nev­er wanted to feel like that again. I was nervous a month ago for this game, and I was shak­ing all day lead­ing up to it. But I knew there wasn’t any­thing in me that was go­ing to al­low my team to lose.”

The win cer­tainly didn’t come easy, though they nev­er do in a rivalry this fierce. The Rag­dolls jumped all over the Bam­bies early, ra­cing out to a 20-10 lead after one, stun­ning an over­flow, ca­pa­city crowd. St. Hubert used a 13-3 run spurt in the second quarter to cut the de­fi­cit to one at the break on the strength of a late three-point­er from seni­or Kelly Ri­ley (team-high 12 points). 

The Rag­dolls ex­er­ted a force­ful coun­ter­punch on the de­fens­ive end in quarter three, hold­ing St. Hubert to just three points en route to a 43-36 lead. Still, the Bam­bies nev­er wavered. A Price three cut the Ry­an lead to four, then seni­or Megan Re­illy scored six of her 10 points in a row, in­clud­ing the go-ahead driv­ing lay­up that gave the Bam­bies their first lead of the game, a 45-44 ad­vant­age with 2:55 left. Seni­or Eliza­beth “Biff” Jones nailed a three off a nifty pass from Re­illy to go up four, but fol­low­ing a Rag­dolls buck­et, Ry­an ju­ni­or Dani­elle Skedzielewski (12 points) ul­ti­mately knot­ted the score at 49 after sink­ing two free throws with 18.4 seconds left. A frantic fi­nal push saw both teams turn the ball over without get­ting a shot off, so sure enough, this clas­sic would re­quire an ex­tra peri­od. 

“It was so nerve-wrack­ing, but we just told ourselves that it wasn’t over un­til that fi­nal buzzer went off,” Re­illy said after her team let the Rag­dolls creep back in. “It’s the best feel­ing I’ve had all sea­son, es­pe­cially since the six of us did it to­geth­er.”

With the sixth seed and fi­nal first-round bye in the Cath­ol­ic League play­offs at stake, the Bam­bies buckled down. They scored the first four of over­time be­fore Ry­an sopho­more Shan­non Glenn (game-high 14 points) cut it to one on a three. Jones missed a pair of free throws (after Re­illy had just missed a pair her­self), again al­low­ing Ry­an to hang around. But the Rag­dolls nev­er took the lead again, and Jones and Price fi­nally closed it out by sink­ing four foul shots in a row.

Now, they could breathe.

“As a team, we’ll al­ways re­mem­ber how spe­cial this win made our seni­or sea­son,” said Jones, who scored 11 points. “Last year, my best friend (Ry­an’s Kalene Cof­fey) made the shot right in my face. I went to St. Martha’s for grade school right next door to Ry­an, so I know all of those kids. We just wanted to play them again, and beat them. You al­ways re­mem­ber the Ry­an games, be­cause that’s our rival.”

By vir­tue of win­ning this game, the Bam­bies get some ex­tra rest while Ry­an will host either Little Flower or Con­well-Egan in a first-round play­off game on Thursday. In a league that is so top-heavy (Ry­an and St. Hubert went a com­bined 0-10 against the top five), the Bam­bies will take any com­pet­it­ive ad­vant­age they can get go­ing for­ward.

“We didn’t want to play on Thursday,” said Price, whose moth­er is a cous­in of Ry­an head coach Mike Mc­Cusk­er. “We had down­falls at points to­night and dur­ing this sea­son, but we nev­er got down on each oth­er men­tally. I think we all knew in our heads that no mat­ter what the score was, we didn’t care. We wer­en’t end­ing this night with a loss.”

The sold-out crowd cer­tainly ad­ded to the at­mo­sphere, which was bey­ond elec­tric. There wasn’t an empty seat in the build­ing, with spec­tat­ors re­sort­ing to sit­ting on the floor or stand­ing by the door. And they hung on every single pos­ses­sion. At one point late in the game, the ten­sion was so palp­able that the Bam­bie mas­cot couldn’t even look, cov­er­ing her eyes in nervous an­ti­cip­a­tion.

“I just want to say thank you to every­one who came out,” Re­illy said. “We wanted a great crowd and we talked it up all week in school, but I don’t know if we ex­pec­ted that.”

Ad­ded Jones: “It usu­ally gets like this once a year, and it just makes you want to play so much bet­ter for every­one there. It gave us the con­fid­ence we needed when we were down. It just makes everything worth­while.”

St. Hubert coach Bri­an Kuzmick has been coach­ing against the Rag­dolls for al­most a dec­ade, and he knew how badly his seni­ors (also Maria DeR­entz and Gina Cocci) wanted this one.

“It was just so much fun to be a part of a game like that,” he said. “I’m ec­stat­ic for them, they needed a win like this. We haven’t had too many down-to-the-wire wins like this, so I think it brings them to­geth­er and gives them con­fid­ence head­ing in­to the play­offs. This is a great way to head in­to it.”

Re­gard­less of how long the Bam­bies last in the mine­field that is the Cath­ol­ic League play­offs, this much is clear: the mem­bers of this team will re­mem­ber Feb. 7, 2014, as the night they sent their ar­chrivals home with the scars of a crush­ing de­feat.

“The way you feel after a win like this,” Jones said, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“To beat them on our home court on Seni­or Night for the very last time, it’s just amaz­ing,” Re­illy said.

“Now, I have brag­ging rights,” Price said with a laugh. “The Ry­an game is big enough. Seni­or Night is big enough. When you put them to­geth­er, there’s no game that will ever be more im­port­ant. There’s no big­ger rival for us, so for all of us to play as col­lect­ively well as we did, I’ve nev­er been so proud. It’s nev­er been so worth it un­til this mo­ment. I’ve nev­er been hap­pi­er to be a St. Hubert bas­ket­ball play­er.” ••

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