Behind 18 points from junior Kellen Bernickus and a pair of free throws by freshman Leona Burton with 6.5 seconds left, the Morris Redskins defeated the La Salle-Peru Lady Cavaliers 42-41 on Saturday night in the first game of a boys/girls varsity doubleheader.
The Redskins trailed by as many as five points with under four minutes remaining but they closed the game on an 8-2 run to get their fifth victory of the season.
In the early going, it was Bernickus and sophomore forward Julie Jurasits who got the scoring going for the Redskins. The pair combined for nine of their 11 first quarter points, but the ‘Skins trailed 16-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Jurasits would go on to add 10 points on the night, while Bernickus’ big night was fueled largely by her mid-range game.
“I was pretty comfortable because my teammates were doing everything they could to move the ball around,” Bernickus said. “(Our guards) were starting to look with their heads up like our coaches were saying and they were starting to dribble and penetrate more.”
In the second quarter, the Redskins buckled down defensively, holding the Cavs to 1-for-17 from the floor. Morris sawed into L-P’s lead and a late bucket by junior Jade Fischer off a great feed from point guard Jessica Ponce tied the game at 22 going into halftime.
In the third quarter, the Redskins were able to race out to a 30-26 lead, but fell in love with the jump shot on the offensive end. The ‘Skins went cold, and L-P would eventually reclaim a 33-30 lead on a buzzer-beater from the corner.
“We got away from what we were doing in the third quarter,” Morris head coach Luke Windy said. “That’s been our one big problem. Sometimes our offense goes a little south and it’s mostly because we’re settling for a lot of three pointers and a lot of jump shots. The thing is, we had a lot of driving opportunities and we weren’t taking them and we let them back in the game a little there.”
In the fourth quarter, the Cavs would extend their lead to 39-34 but that’s when the Redskins would go on to mount their late charge. Bernickus, who lead all scorers, drew a charge with 3:32 remaining and a driving bucket by Burton would shave the lead down to three.
In the final minute and a half, the Redskins forced a trio of crucial turnovers and a 15-foot free throw line jumper by Bernickus cut the lead to 41-40 with 30 seconds left. Morris then forced another turnover to set up their final offensive possession.
The Redskins were able to shake some on-ball pressure to get Jurasits a quality look at a three-pointer from the top of the key that rattled out. That’s when Burton snared the offensive rebound and was fouled, putting her at the charity stripe with 6.5 seconds left and a chance to win the game.
“I was very confident in her. She has a really good shot and it didn’t look like she was nervous,” Bernickus said of her freshman teammate.
With the game on the line, Burton stroked home the pair and gave Morris a 42-41 lead. The ensuing L-P possession ended without a shot and the Redskins got the win.
“Those are two huge free throws for a freshman to step up and hit,” Windy said. “I think she just stepped to the line with a lot of confidence.”