Girls’ basketball: St. John’s, Paul VI advance to WCAC finals

St. John’s guard Amari Carter limped away from a loose ball in Sunday afternoon’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference semifinal against Carroll, and Bender Arena at American University watched in silence. Carter, one of the area’s young bright stars who is quickly turning into a high-profile national recruit, just returned to the Cadets’ lineup earlier this week after missing three weeks with a stress fracture in her left shin.

But this was her right knee. Carter walked back gingerly to her bench, where an assistant quickly started taping it. Carter looked at it nonchalantly and flashed a smile to a teammate when she got back on the floor. Nobody could blame her. Carter, still not running at full speed, received plenty of help from her teammates. Niya Beverly scored 17 points and Carter added 19 to lift St. John’s over upset-minded Carroll, 69-54, on Sunday.

“I just landed on it wrong. . . . It didn’t affect me,” said Carter, who added she is still acclimating to playing with her shin injury. “I get more comfortable as the days go on.”

The league’s defending champion, St. John’s (23-6) will play in its fifth consecutive WCAC championship Tuesday against top-seeded Paul VI, which beat Good Counsel, 61-42, in the other semifinal behind 19 points from senior guard Ariana Freeman.

Carroll (15-16), which stormed back in the second half to stun second-seeded Elizabeth Seton in the quarterfinals, couldn’t do it again Sunday against the athletic guards of St. John’s. Beverly was sensational for long stretches, including in the first quarter, when she scored 11 points and hit a corner three-pointer right before the buzzer to give her team a 24-15 advantage.

After trailing by 17 at halftime, the Lions pulled within 51-41 at the end of the third quarter behind back-to-back jumpers from Jenna Patterson (14 points) and Kenyatta Butler (15 points). But Carter took over moments later, driving the lane and hitting a runner. She came up with a defensive rebound on the following possession, then found guard Britani Stowe (11 points) with a cross-court pass that led to a layup. Carroll didn’t get closer than nine points after that.

“We pushed the pace from the beginning,” Carter said.

In the early game, Paul VI’s Freeman opened the game with eight points in the first two minutes. But she picked up two fouls in the first quarter and missed long stretches in the first half, and Good Counsel trailed 28-26 at halftime after receiving strong play from freshman guard Maya Riley (11 points).

The Panthers (25-5) imposed their will in the third quarter as junior center Jonquanae Cole scored eight of her 18 points. Freeman made one of the best plays of the day when she took a steal coast-to-coast and set up a three-point play after dishing off to sophomore Jasmine Whitney.

It’s the first WCAC title game appearance in Coach Scott Allen’s 12 years at the school, and it sets up a showdown between two of the area’s best players in Freeman and Carter, both of whom missed significant time earlier this season because of injuries. Freeman was named the league’s player of the year earlier this week, while Carter was a first-team selection.

“Even though we beat [Good Counsel] twice in the regular season, with all these upsets in the WCAC, we couldn’t take them for granted. We had to come out here and play as hard as we could,” Freeman said. “I’m excited [for St. John’s]. I’m focused. I’m ready.”

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