St. Paul celebrates after defeating Duarte 45-44 during a prep Division 4AA girls basketball championship at the Felix Event Center on the East Campus of Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif., on Friday, March 4, 2016. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News)
In the biggest moment in program history, the St. Paul High girls basketball team turned to a player who knew the least about it, and she came through in the clutch.
Soft-spoken Francesca Facchini, a junior foreign exchange student for St. Paul, swished a game-winning 3-pointer from the corner with 6.6 seconds left to lift St. Paul to a 45-44 victory Friday over Duarte in the CIF-Southern Section 4AA championship at Azusa Pacific University.
Facchini, who was 0 for 5 before giving the Swordsmen a 42-40 lead with a drive to the basket with 2:22 left, wasn’t hesitant when she got the ball with her team down, 44-42, letting it go and hitting nothing but net in the final seconds.
Last year, Facchini was living it Italy, and now she’s a CIF champion with quite a story to take home.
“It means everything, everything,” Facchini said, struggling to explain what it meant to be trusted with the final shot. “I’ve got the best coaches, the best teammates. It’s incredible that this happened.”
It is St. Paul’s first championship after going 0 for 5 in the finals and losing in last year’s championship game, 73-45.
St. Paul coach Robert Miller, who sat through all those championship losses, talked about his trust in Facchini with the game on the line
“We thought she could still knock them down, she took one right before that and missed it and was down, and our assistant coaches kept telling her keep your head up and go get the next one, and that’s exactly what happened,” Miller said.
And for Miller, the drought is over.
“It feels pretty good,” Miller said.” I said before I don’t think it matters (losing five championships), but I was lying, it matters a lot, and I’m so I’m glad she (Facchini) hit that shot.”
Duarte had a chance to win in the final seconds, but MacKenzie Barnes, who led all scorers with 16 points, lost the ball out of bounds with a second left while trying to attack the basket.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Falcons first-year coach Scott Wiard, who led his team to its first appearance in a championship game.
Wiard took the blame for Facchini being left all alone in the corner for the game-winner.
“We got a little confused on the last shot as to who was guarding who, you can’t have that mistake, that’s my fault,” Wiard said. “We have to do a better job of communicating.”
For St. Paul, Nalon Smith led the team in scoring with 12 points and seven rebounds and Adriana Gonzalez scored 10 points with five rebounds. Jurhandi Molina finished with a game-leading 10 rebounds.
Duarte’s 6-foot-7 sophomore Patricia Morris finished with 13 points and nine rebounds, and Ryley Thompson added nine points.
The ending was fitting, because all night the two teams went back and forth.
Smith buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Swordsmen a 12-8 lead after one quarter, and Molina’s putback pushed the Swordsmen’s lead to 21-14.
But Barnes came back with a jumper, then Barnes delivered a sweet pass to Thompson for a bucket to trim the Swordsmen’s lead to 21-18.
Barnes kept it going, hitting a 12-footer to give the Falcons a 24-22 lead at half.
The Swordsmen scored the first five points of the second half and led 35-30 with 2:35 to go in the third after Valerie Godinez’s layup.
After Delaney Thompson scored for Duarte, Gonzalez’s putback at the buzzer gave St. Paul a 38-34 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
By Fred Robledo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune High School Sport (04/03/2016)