The St. Albert Skyhawks remain undefeated in metro Edmonton premier women’s basketball even though they failed to play up to expectations Wednesday against the Bev Facey Falcons.
The second-ranked 3A team in Alberta battled back twice from five-point deficits in the third quarter and trailed by three early in the fourth before scoring eight in a row en route to a 66-57 decision at the SkyDome.
“We weren’t living up to what we can do but in the fourth quarter we stepped it up a bit and that helped us,” said Shelby Hucul, a steady performer throughout the match with 15 points.
The Skyhawks pulled ahead for good on buckets by Kendall Lydon (converted a sharp pass by Hucul) and Andrea Heavener (perimeter shot bounced off the rim and in), a pair of free throws by Hilary Annich and Heavener’s field goal with 5:34 to play to make it 55-50.
The Falcons later rallied to within one before Zoe Downing sank two out of four free throws in less than a minute.
After both teams traded missed foul shots, the Skyhawks converted a turnover into points as Annich drove to the hoop, then dished the ball off for Hucul to bank a shot in to extend the lead to 61-56 with 1:33 remaining.
Credit the Falcons (2-5) for giving the three-time reigning Edmonton zone champions a good scare. The Sherwood Park team did its damage offensively from three-point territory with 11 long bombs, including six in the second half.
Early in the season, the Skyhawks needed overtime to clip the plucky Falcons 84-80.
“Teams are playing us hard. I think maybe before they were underestimating us a little bit [as the only 3A team in premier],” said Hucul, a strong-armed Grade 11 guard who passes the ball down court like a quarterback going deep for a touchdown. “I’m not making excuses but we were tired [playing their sixth game in seven days] but we still should’ve pushed through better than that.”
The Skyhawks led 16-8 after the first quarter, 31-26 at halftime and 47-46 after three quarters.
Three-balls by Tricia McFarlane and Lydon in the opening seven minutes helped keep the Skyhawks on top.
In the second quarter, the fifth three-pointer by the Falcons in the first half knotted it at 26-all with 2:26 left before the break. The Skyhawks closed out the half with two free throws by Annich, a bucket by McFarlane and Heavener’s foul shot.
The third three-ball in a row by the Falcons and put them in front 41-36 with 2:54 to go in the third period. Missed free throws prevented the Falcons from expanding their margin as the Skyhawks rallied to lead by one before quarter time.
“We didn’t start off very strong. In the first three quarters that wasn’t our team. That’s not how we play at all,” Hucul said. “Our intensity wasn’t there. We weren’t pushing it out there. We weren’t rebounding as hard as we could. We weren’t playing to our abilities but at least we came out with a win.”
Annich finished with a game-high 19 points. Lydon scored seven of her 11 points in the first quarter. Heavener added seven.
The victory was the seventh without a loss in premier and the 15th in 17 games, league play and tournaments combined by the 2010 Optimist Showdown in St. Albert champions.
“Yeah, it looks good but just because we’re winning doesn’t mean we can stop pushing our hardest. We have to keep this going,” Hucul said.
The Skyhawks are marching towards not only their first trip to the premier final in team history, but are also a lock to hoop it up at their sixth straight provincials. As the number two team in 3A, the Skyhawks haven’t been ranked that high provincially since they were third in 2008, the same year they were provincial bronze medallists.
In addition to capturing their second Showdown crown in three years, Monday’s historic 66-57 thriller over the O’Leary Spartans (6-1), ranked second in 4A, should lift the Skyhawks past Springbank Phoenix of Calgary, listed number one in both provincial rankings this season.
“At Showdown and our game on Monday we sort of reached our peak but today we brought it down a bit,” Hucul said. “We should not have a peak and then go downwards. We have to keep pushing forward.”
Both premier teams were 5-0 with first place on the line. Down by six at halftime at 32-26, the Skyhawks trailed by as much 15 in the third quarter before mounting an impressive comeback. Back-to-back threes by Downing and Heavener left the Skyhawks six points back of the home team. In the fourth quarter they outscored O’Leary 20-5 as Downing tacked up eight points.
Annich’s 15 points led the Skyhawks in scoring. Heavener finished with 14 and Downing had 11. Lydon and Hucul added eight apiece.
A two-point loss to O’Leary in the third place game at the REB Invitational at Jasper Place in December was the last time the Skyhawks tasted defeat.
“It was a pretty big game for us on Monday and we just gave it all that we had,” Hucul said. “Showdown really got us prepared for it. Our focus was there and we played really good.”
This weekend the Skyhawks are competing at the J. Percy Page tournament. Their next league game is Monday against the Rams (1-5) at St. Francis Xavier High School at 4:45 p.m.