Carmel Catholic Takes 3A Title As Size, Defensive Might Overcome Nazareth

By Kaleb Carter

NORMAL –  Grace Sullivan and Jordan Wood have been making opponents sweat their height all season long. Saturday, the duo made timely plays with their heads more than anything, bringing home a state championship for the first time in program history.

Carmel Catholic’s 43-39 victory over Nazareth avenged two previous losses to the Roadrunners this season in East Suburban Catholic Conference play. The Roadrunners won the previous matchups: 57-41 on Dec. 8 and 58-47 on Feb. 5. 

Other contributors had the honor of making backbreaking plays down the stretch for the champion Corsairs. 

“It’s nerve-wracking in some of these larger games,” Sullivan, a senior Bucknell signee, said. “We learned how to slow ourselves down and understand that we can make these plays. We’re good enough to make these plays. I feel like that’s an area we’ve improved. Also physicality and rebounding, coach Berg said that’s been one of our focal points this entire season. The rebounding side, that’s been a huge improvement. Overall, all the things we’ve been working on, we’ve improved.”

Ashley Schlabowkse sank 3-of-4 free throws to give the Corsairs a four-point lead with 11 seconds left. She also recorded a steal late to help finish off the Roadrunners (33-3 final record). 

“I was a little nervous, but I was like, ‘This is just like the Benet game, I just have to make it and get back on defense,’” Schlabowske said. 

Mia Gillis sank two timely free throws as well with 50 seconds left to put Carmel up four, but Nazareth Academy’s Grace Carstensen drilled a three-pointer to cut the deficit back to a point before Schlabowske’s free throws with 11 seconds remaining. Carstensen scored 11 points and knocked down 3-of-6 on three-point attempts. 

Gillis scored eight points, adding seven rebounds and three assists. 

“I think team-wise when we got down, we trusted each other and hit our free throws,” Gillis said. 

Sullivan scored 13 and had 13 rebounds. Wood scored 12 and had three assists. Carmel was strong shooting the ball, making 16-of-28 shots, and out-rebounded Nazareth 28-14. 

The two squads were trading buckets throughout the third, and with the Carmel student section chanting “shoot the ball” at Caroline Workman, she pulled up from deep for a go-ahead three-pointer that put Nazareth up 27-26 with 2:00 left in the third quarter with the atmosphere reaching a frenzy. Dray scored nine and Workman scored eight for Nazareth. 

“It was like a home game, like, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of people here,’” Carmel’s Anna Hartman said. 

Kyla Smith tied the game with a free throw, then after missing the second free throw, Grace Sullivan put a shot off the glass for a 29-27 Carmel lead. Mia Gillis added an elbow jumper for a 31-27 advantage. 

Every time Nazareth drew nearer, Carmel Catholic had an answer. 

“We played hard tonight,” Nazareth coach Ed Stritzel said. “I don’t know that we played well. That had a lot to do with Carmel.”

The Corsairs kept the Roadrunners off the board until Workman took the ball hard to the hoop for a layup with about 1:50 left in the first quarter. 

“Playing from behind, it’s a ton of pressure and it forces us to speed things up,” Nazareth Academy’s Olivia Austin said. “Taking quick shots is something we do a lot. We weren’t finishing as well as we normally do.”

Carmel was in control in the early going, before some mostly-token pressure from the Roadrunners sped Carmel up and got Nazareth back in the game. Carmel led 18-16 at the half behind six points, seven rebounds from Sullivan and seven Corsairs assists on eight made baskets. 

“We know we can do better,” Dray said. “We didn’t perform our best today, so in the future we know we’re going to give everything we have and not fall short again.”

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