Aquinas Academy tops St. Joseph, makes early statement in Class A girls basketball

Monday, December 5, 2022 | 10:14 PM

The St. Joseph girls basketball team hoped to build on Friday’s victory over Class 4A Belle Vernon at the Play 4 Mae Tournament at Woodland Hills as it hosted Aquinas Academy on Monday in an early season clash of top five Class A teams.

But those hopes were dashed by the Crusaders, who used runs of 11-0 and 8-0 in the second and third quarters en route to a 45-32 road win.

“That was a really nice win for the girls,” Aquinas Academy coach Christopher Lebakken said. “I watched the game (St. Joseph) played against Belle Vernon, and obviously we knew that (junior) Julie (Spinelli) is their scorer. I put one of my freshman on her that is pretty good defensively to try and contain her the best we could and kind of play off some of the other players a little bit, help box out and try to get rebounds.”

Aquinas led 19-15 at halftime, but St. Joseph regained the lead at 20-19 in the first two minutes of the third quarter on a 3-pointer from Spinelli and a layup from Emma Swierczewski.

Spinelli finished with a team-best 15 points after scoring 29 in the win over Belle Vernon.

But that was the last lead the Spartans enjoyed in the game.

A jumper from Ellie Junker with 5:14 on the third-quarter clock gave the Crusaders the lead for good.

Aquinas led by six, 34-28, at the end of the third quarter. St. Joseph tried to rally, but a couple of missed shots and additional turnovers — the Spartans finished with 29 giveaways — sank their chances.

The Spartans didn’t score in the fourth quarter until Swierczewski put in a layup with 2:31 left. By that time, Aquinas had built a 41-28 advantage.

Belle Hite, the team’s only senior, started the quarter with a 3-point play — a layup and a foul shot — and the Crusaders followed with four more from the free-throw line to build their double-digit lead.

“Turnovers really killed us and also not being able to make layups,” said St. Joseph coach Dennis Jones, whose team came in No. 3 in the Trib HSSN Class A rankings. Aquinas entered No. 5.

“We should’ve had a sizeable lead to start the game, and then we just got out of whack. When we get out of flow and rhythm, we struggle. We also had foul trouble. It was tough to have to take my center out (6-foot-2 Anna Kreinbrook).”

Kreinbrook finished with nine rebounds, but she was not able to crack the scoreboard. She left the game after picking up her fourth foul with 23 seconds to go in the third quarter and re-entered with 4:14 to play in the fourth.

Gia Richter scored eight points for St. Joseph. Six came in the first quarter as the Spartans led 11-6 after the first eight minutes.

Swierczewski scored seven points for St. Joseph, which will try to get back on track next week with road games at Avella and Apollo-Ridge.

“This was a tough one, but we’ll come back,” Jones said.

Junior Emily Fisher led Aquinas with 18 points. Ten of the 18 came in the second half as she hit a 3-pointer and was 7 of 8 from the foul line.

Sophomore Violet Johnson added 11 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks for the Crusaders before leaving the game in the third quarter with an injury in a collision under the basket.

“Shots weren’t falling for us early on, but I am happy with the way we stuck with it and were able to manage a good game the rest of the way,” Lebakken said.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at or via Twitter .

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