St. Joseph girls basketball team develops chemistry

Wednesday, January 26, 2022 | 7:53 PM

The St. Joseph girls basketball team entered the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s nonsection game against Class 3A Shady Side Academy trailing by three points.

But clutch scoring and a defensive effort that held the Bulldogs to four points over the final eight minutes helped the Spartans rally for a 37-33 victory.

“It was just exciting,” St. Joseph coach Dennis Jones said. “Playing a team that is 3A with a good coach, it was a great feeling to go there and get a really nice win. We made some young mistakes, but we stuck together and played as a team.”

A challenging schedule through the first month of the season, in addition to injuries and issues with covid tracing, saddled St. Joseph with a record they had hoped to avoid.

But with the team’s recent return to full strength and promising game results under their belts, Jones said things are looking up for his players in the stretch run of the regular season and beyond.

“We played Clairton tough last week, and I could see that spark even more,” Jones said. “Then beating Freeport was huge for their confidence. How they played against Shady Side just fortified that. They are starting to really believe.

“Before that, when we didn’t have everybody, there were some who tried to do too much or put too much on themselves. Now, they are really playing as a team. We sang the national anthem as a group (before the Freeport game), and you could see them being a little more relaxed.”

St. Joseph, 4-9 overall and 1-2 in Section 3-1A, is looking forward to Friday’s home rematch with Aquinas Academy, which dealt the Spartans a tough loss in the section opener Jan. 4.

“We’re looking forward to what we can do the rest of the way in section play,” Jones said. “That first game against Aquinas, we hadn’t practiced and hadn’t been together. We didn’t have everybody. The girls are really looking forward to showing differently on Friday.”

Sophomore Julie Spinelli scored a team-best 17 points against Clairton, a 51-48 section setback. St. Joseph led into the fourth, but the Bears outscored the Spartans, 13-8, in the quarter to pull out the three-point win.

Freshman Gia Richter added 15 points in the loss.

The rematch with Clairton at Clairton is Monday.

Spinelli, who missed the first couple of weeks with an ankle injury suffered in a scrimmage against Burrell, is finding her groove.

A Valley News Dispatch third-team all-star as a freshman, Spinelli recorded a career-best 33 points on 12 of 16 shooting against Freeport. She hit four 3-pointers and was 5 of 7 from the foul line.

Spinelli also pulled down five rebounds, delivered three assists and made three steals.

“I was finishing really well that game,” she said. “I was kind of on a roll. It felt really good to have everything finally click for me and be able to contribute to a really big win against a bigger school.”

Spinelli enters Friday’s section game with Aquinas averaging 17.2 points and 5.4 rebounds through nine games played.

“Julie still is getting back into her best game shape,” Jones said. “She missed the first couple of weeks, and then we just kind of eased her back into the lineup. The last three or so games, we really started to lean on her more. She played such a complete game against Freeport.”

Jones said the youthful team is making strides with lone senior Trinity Lockwood-Morris helping the bevy of younger players continue to find their way.

She fronted the scoring effort against Shady Side Academy with 19 points, and she is second on the team in scoring average at 8.1 a contest.

“The beginning of the season was a little rocky for us, but as of late, the chemistry has been unmatched, and that has allowed us to gain so much momentum,” Lockwood-Morris said.

“Our transition game, the passes we are able to make, and the way we communicate on offense and defense, it give us so much confidence that we can compete in every game and win these games.”

Sophomore Emma Swierczewski checks in at 6.8 points per game, and Richter averages 5.2 points.

“In the Freeport game, we stepped on the court not thinking that they were (a 4A team),” Lockwood-Morris said.

“We went out there with the confidence that we’re just as good as they are, if not better. We went out there and played our game. It was close, but we all stuck together. It was such a fun game to play.”

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


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