The Seton Catholic Sentinels girls’ basketball team has a long-standing history of dominance, but on Saturday it showed once again why it is one of the best teams in Arizona. The top-ranked Sentinels steamrolled their way to a 70-40 victory in the 4A girls state championship game at Veterans Memorial Coliseum, defeating the no. 3 Sahuaro Cougars.
The game got off to a close start. Both teams opened with tough defense. The first basket did not come until more than two minutes in from Seton Catholic sophomore Lexi McNabb.
“They played really good defense on us,” McNabb said. “We knew that we needed to do what we know how to do, and what we do best, and then we would get what we want. That’s exactly what happened,” McNabb said.
However, things started rolling, and junior Amanda Barcello set the tone when she was able to steal a ball on the floor, dribble and get up to ensure she didn’t get a travel violation. At the end of the first eight minutes, it was 17-10 Seton Catholic on top.
In the second quarter, Seton Catholic started to pull ahead, anchored by its continuously strong defensive efforts and ability to secure offensive rebounds and second-chance points. Two minutes into the second quarter, the Sentinels went on an 11-2 run, which resulted in Seton Catholic going into the half with a 39-16 lead.
Sahuaro looked to have made some adjustments to open up the second-half of the game, but it was still in a huge hole. The adjustments weren’t enough, as the Sentinels were putting up shots from all over the court and sinking them. Seton Catholic was able to pull away to a 59-32 lead going into the final eight minutes of play.
In the fourth quarter, Seton Catholic was able to continue chopping away at Sahuaro despite Barcello fouling out with about six minutes left. When there was around three minutes remaining, Seton Catholic put in a lot of their younger players to get experience playing in a big game like this since they already had such a huge lead and had essentially secured the win.
The final buzzer served as a moment of redemption for the Sentinels, who had a heartbreaking loss in last year’s state championship game after winning the state title in 2018.
“It’s unbelievable. I had this feeling my freshman year, last year we lost, so I’ve experienced both, but back to this feeling, it’s unbelievable and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Barcello said.
“I think the feeling we had freshman year, me, Amanda, Jamie, a lot of the juniors, we knew that feeling and we knew the feeling of losing too, and we hated it. We weren’t going to let it happen again,” junior Bella DiGiovanni said.
Many of the players mentioned their late assistant coach Tiffany Tate, who passed away in September 2018 following a battle with Lung Cancer at the age of 35.
Seton Catholic finished with four girls who had ten or more points. That included sophomore Sasha Daniel who had 11, McNabb who had ten, Barcello who had 11 and junior bench player Annemarie Trojanovich. Freshman Amelie Cartagena also had an outstanding game with nine points, as did sophomore LeeLee Willis, who was tied for the most steals with three and the most rebounds with eight.
While winning the championship trophy was huge for Seton Catholic, Coach Karen Self says that winning the AIA team sportsmanship award is an even bigger deal to her.
“I think that sportsmanship award speaks volumes for us about who we are as a team, and even though we had some big wins, I had referees who would say ‘thank you for using your bench and not pressing when you’re up by more than 20.’ Really, I’m more proud of that than anything else. I’m so proud of our kids,” Self said.
The Sentinels, who had a dominating season this year, will not be losing a single player on this year’s team as there were no seniors. The Sentinels will look to continue building in the offseason and keep growing on the court.