Prestonwood Christian head girls basketball coach Holly Mulligan admitted that her heart might have skipped a beat as John Paul II hoisted its final shot during Tuesday’s state-ranked rivalry showdown.
The No. 6-ranked Lady Lions nursed a three-point lead in the game’s closing seconds, only for the No. 2 Lady Cardinals to generate an open 3-pointer after junior Kate Valle scampered along the baseline and right into the corner to receive a pass from senior Nevaeh Tot.
Although the Lady Lions’ rotation to Valle was a hairline late, the 3-point shot landed fell just far of the mark and into the arms of senior Jordan Webster. Prestonwood’s career scoring leader then sunk a free throw on the other end to help seal a 51-47 thriller over John Paul.
“This brings a lot of confidence. Not only are they a winning team with a lot of weapons, but they’ve been playing really well this year,” said Holly Mulligan, Prestonwood head coach. “They have seniors who want it. We’ve finally got everyone back … and to see it all clicking right now, we’re trying trying to peak at the right time.”
Tuesday’s victory went a long way toward validating that progress, with Prestonwood handing John Paul just its fourth loss of the season. Plenty of that had to do with an emphatic finish by the Lady Lions, who after chipping away at the armor of the Lady Cardinals for three quarters finally reaped the benefits.
Prestonwood outscored John Paul, 20-12, during the final stanza — partly due to shackling Lady Cardinals senior post Nevaeh Parkinson to the bench with foul trouble. Parkinson, whose rim protection stifled Prestonwood for much of the first half, logged only 51 seconds of court time in the fourth quarter before fouling out with 3:19 remaining in the contest.
“[Parkinson] is just so strong inside, she has a great basketball IQ and moves really well in the paint,” Mulligan said. “We were trying to get her in foul trouble, because she’ll go for blocks and we felt like if we could make any quick moves, we might be able to get her into foul trouble. That was a goal and ultimately a big reason why we won.”
With Parkinson on the bench, Prestonwood went to work in the paint against the Lady Cardinals. Senior Jordan Webster opened the fourth quarter with a pair of layups before junior Bria Stephens finished a look inside to give the Lady Lions their first lead of the night, 37-35, with 5:49 remaining.
Webster, who led all scorers with 20 points in the victory, then drained a step-back 3-pointer for a two-possession lead that Prestonwood nursed to the finish line.
Webster and senior Morgan Hervey were instrumental in helping keep John Paul at bay, combining for 11 points in the fourth quarter and limiting the Lady Cardinals’ second-chance opportunities while Parkinson was out. Hervey added eight points and nine rebounds, while junior Kendall Parker chipped in 12 points for Prestonwood.
It was enough to withstand an atypical night from state-ranked John Paul, which received a combined nine points from Parkinson and Tot in the loss. Prestonwood never let Tot, an Oklahoma commit and McDonald’s All-American nominee, get comfortable on Tuesday — deploying a triangle-and-two zone defense that had Parker blanketing the point guard for the entire first half. Although Prestonwood’s efforts to limit Tot were successful — the Lady Cardinals’ leading scorer managed just six points and didn’t score a basket until the 4:45 mark of the third quarter — the point guard still helped set up a number of open shots from deep, which led to big scoring nights from senior Delinah Hailey (15 points) and Valle (13) to pace a 23-17 halftime lead.
“[Tot] is outstanding at point guard and makes that whole team better,” Mulligan said. “We were playing the shot. We scouted them against Bishop Lynch and there was a moment where she scored eight quick points and we noticed that she was really looking to score. We initially thought we might have to play the pass … but against Lynch, she had a whole different mindset. She has such a great basketball IQ and changed it up.”
The Lady Cardinals look to bounce back at 6 p.m. Friday in a road tilt against Parish Episcopal. Prestonwood will next put its unblemished district record on the line at 6 p.m. Tuesday against Bishop Lynch.