St. John’s junior guard Carly Rivera stood on the left wing with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter at Bender Arena, palms outstretched as teammate Azzi Fudd started her drive to the paint before turning her body and dishing the ball in Rivera’s direction. 

In an effortless catch-and-shoot motion, Rivera swung the ball back to her body and lifted up, knocking down her fourth three-pointer of Monday’s Washington Catholic Athletic Conference girls’ title game and giving No. 1 St. John’s a 10-point lead en route to a 54-49 victory over No. 2 Paul VI.

Rivera scored a career-high 16 points as St. John’s earned its second straight WCAC title.

“There is no substitute for her,” Cadets Coach Jonathan Scribner said. “She had two big ones in the Bishop McNamara game last week that sealed that one. She had been working unbelievably hard in the gym for the last month . . . proof in the pudding for her right there.” 

Running the point for the Cadets, Rivera caught fire early. She went 4 for 4 from the field and nailed three three-pointers to total 11 points before halftime to help give St. John’s a 28-22 advantage at the break.

“I’ve never had a game like this before,” Rivera said. “It was definitely relieving to know that staying in the gym and getting up all my extra shots paid off.” 

Fudd, a budding freshman who was face-guarded by Paul VI junior Ashley Owusu, finished with 11 points as her role turned into more of a distributor.

“Everybody is going to try to key in on her, but we had to prove that our team is not just Azzi,” Rivera said. “We have five capable players on the floor, and that helped us win tonight.” 

Owusu scored a team-high 25 points for the Panthers, and senior Amira Collins, a Tennessee signee, added 12. 

Both teams will start their state tournament runs later this week, with Paul VI entering the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association tournament and St. John’s the D.C. State Athletic Association tournament. 

This was the third consecutive year Paul VI and St. John’s have met in the WCAC championship game. St. John’s prevailed, 58-52, last season, while Paul VI earned a 70-61 victory to cap a string of three straight WCAC titles the year before. Now the Cadets have started a championship streak of their own, and led by a young star in Fudd, who has three more years of her high school career in front of her, they should be well positioned to extend it. 

“I can’t wait for more,” said Fudd, who was named WCAC player of the year. “I can’t wait for next year. I’m so used to watching [the championship game]. It was a lot more fun playing in it.”