St. John’s senior Kayla Robbins had come to life in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon, but she already knew whom the Cadets would turn to with the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference girls’ basketball semifinals hanging in the balance.
The lead had shrunk to two, and the ball went to junior Aisha Sheppard near the top of the key. One more jab step led to another pull-up jumper, and suddenly the Cadets were in the position they have grown accustomed to over the years.
No. 12 St. John’s is headed back to the WCAC championship game after beating No. 9 Good Counsel, 58-53, at American’s Bender Arena, and Sheppard’s offensive skills left an imprint on the action. She finished with 19 points on an array of outside jumpers that steadied the Cadets whenever they were threatened.
The Cadets will face No. 2 Paul VI in the final for the second time in three years Monday.
“Every shot she hit was basically the biggest shot of the game,” Robbins said. “She makes so many of them. She’s the best shooter in the WCAC.”
Sheppard was the catalyst early, hitting three of her four three-pointers while spearheading a late first-half run that gave St. John’s (23-6) a nine-point lead entering the break. But Good Counsel clawed back into the contest and tied the score at 39 heading into the fourth quarter.
The comeback ignited Robbins, though, and the Michigan recruit scored six of her 13 points on consecutive possessions to give the Cadets the lead back for good.
Juniors Lindsey Pulliam and Maya Riley and freshman Chloe Chapman all finished in double figures for Good Counsel (22-6), but the Falcons went cold in the final two minutes of regulation. Sheppard, meanwhile, stayed hot. She followed Robbins’s surge by draining another long three-pointer to snuff out Good Counsel’s response.
“Our team was focused,” Sheppard said. “We knew what we had to do from the get-go, and we’re just ready to do what people think we can.”
After so much recent success in the WCAC girls’ tournament, Paul VI’s veterans are unfazed by the jitters of playing in a college arena. That calm served them well in the afternoon’s first semifinal matchup.
Top-seeded Paul VI led from start to finish in a 70-60 win over Elizabeth Seton, building an early advantage while the Roadrunners suffered through nerves and had every second-half challenge answered with a run.
Sophomore Kate Klimkiewicz provided a boost from the starting lineup, instead of her usual role off the bench, and scored 10 of her 17 points in the first quarter. Sophomore Amira Collins paced the Panthers inside with 19 points, including back-to-back post moves to swing momentum to start the fourth quarter.
Paul VI (29-1) will go for its third straight WCAC championship Monday.
“We try to talk to our new kids and tell them it’s a lot different. We were ready for this,” senior Jasmine Whitney (12 points) said. “This game we kept our composure very well. They always have good runs, so you can’t stop.”