North Catholic girls rally to sink Highlands in key section matchup

Thursday, January 19, 2023 | 9:52 PM

North Catholic girls basketball coach Molly Rottman knew Thursday’s rematch between her Trojanettes and host Highlands would not be as one-sided as the first Section 1-4A meeting Dec. 15 when North Catholic won by 28 points.

This time, the Golden Rams slowed the pace in the first half and, with the help of the 3-point shot, held a five-point lead at the break.

But North Catholic, led by Alayna Rocco, who scored 15 of her team-best 18 points in the second half, turned around its fortunes and came away with a 49-35 victory.

“This was a big week for us,” said Rottman, whose team improved to 12-3 overall and 7-0 in the section.

“We had Knoch to close out the first round of the section schedule on Monday, and we knew tonight was going to be a challenge. We knew that first game, a 30-point win, was not going to happen here. Maybe we came in a little tight or a little too loose. It wasn’t the prep, because we prepped hard for them. They are a good team, and they made it hard on us for a while.”

North Catholic, which ran its winning streak to six games, returns to action Monday at home against Freeport.

Highlands, which saw its six-game winning streak snapped, fell to 9-5 overall and 5-2 in the section.

Highlands and Knoch meet Monday in a rematch of a 52-42 Golden Rams victory Dec. 19. The Knights had a section bye Thursday and are 4-2.

North Catholic came out of halftime and turned up the defensive pressure in the full court and half court. Highlands was unable to keep pace and committed 10 turnovers in the third quarter.

The Trojanettes turned a 22-17 deficit at halftime into a 30-25 lead at the end of three. Ava Walker, who finished with 12 points, scored seven in the third, and Rocco added six.

Highlands’ only points of the quarter came on a 3-pointer from Kate Myers.

“We talked at halftime about how North Catholic wasn’t just going to go away,” Highlands coach Shawn Bennis said.

“Knowing who they are, they weren’t going to take being down five points at halftime lightly. They turned us up and sped us up a little bit and got us a little out of control. We had some unforced turnovers. We tried to still control the tempo and run when we could. I think four trips might have been the key where they turned us over. We also had some second-half shots that didn’t fall. Once (North Catholic) got the lead back, then they felt more comfortable.”

Rocco sank a pair of foul shots to begin the fourth, and Sarah Loughry added a steal that resulted in a three-point play to extend the advantage to 10 with 7 minutes, 3 seconds to play.

“We weren’t playing smart and weren’t playing within ourselves,” Rottman said of the first half and the halftime deficit.

“We were struggling to hit, and were a little cold. We were then taking quicker and quicker shots. We told them at halftime to just slow down, work the ball, and make them work a little harder on the defensive end. We did a much better job doing that in the second half. We also did a much better job of making sure we had the ball in our hands and were throwing the ball all over the place.”

Despite five turnovers in the first quarter, Highlands held a 13-11 lead.

Junior Kalleigh Nerone hit a 3-pointer with 2 seconds left to put the Golden Rams ahead.

Highlands led by five on three separate occasions in the second quarter.

Again, Nerone was clutch for the Golden Rams as she banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer. Highlands had five 3-pointers in the first half.

Nerone had three of those five from beyond the arc and led the Golden Rams with 13 points.

Myers finished with nine points on a trio of 3-pointers.

“We have a tough one again on Monday,” Bennis said.

“Knoch is playing well, and it’s at their place. After we beat them the first time, they didn’t lose until North Catholic. We have to come in over the weekend and prepare hard for those guys. Now that game is pretty key for where both teams are at in the section.”

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

Tags: ,

More High School Basketball

Trib 10: State champs take top spots in season’s final power rankings
Trib HSSN Boys Basketball State Rankings for March 28, 2023
Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Team of the Week for March 28, 2023
Trib HSSN Girls Basketball State Rankings for March 27, 2023
Trib HSSN Boys Basketball Player of the Week for March 27, 2023