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DIVISION I-A GIRLS: Defense helps Faith Lutheran into title tilt with Spring Valley

Faith Lutheran girls basketball coach Jennifer Karner knows defense plays a huge part in all successful teams. That’s the reason she’s constantly pleading for tough, on-ball pressure.

Her girls got the memo Friday in the Division I-A state semifinals against Lowry.

The Crusaders forced 24 turnovers and held the Buckaroos to 27.1 percent shooting from the field to claim a 48-32 win at Silverado.

Faith Lutheran (23-6) will face Spring Valley (29-1) at 2:40 p.m. Saturday in the state final at Orleans Arena.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Karner, whose team claimed the 2013 title. “Our defensive pressure held them to a very low score. The defense and rebounding really won the game for us.”

Faith Lutheran, which only gave up four first-half field goals, forced six turnovers and received a major spark off the bench from sophomore Bryanna Neagle to take control in the second quarter.

Neagle scored all five of her points and had four rebounds in the second quarter to spark a 13-3 run in the first six minutes to help Faith Lutheran take a 23-11 lead. The Crusaders led 25-13 at halftime, and were hardly threatened after.

“That was big,” Karner said of the run. “We talked about settling down now after the jitters were gone. Just coming out and playing our game, our brand of basketball. Bryanna had a great game.”

The Crusaders got two 3-pointers and a short jumper off three assists on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter, to take a 41-24 lead. It was their biggest lead of the game.

“We talked about goals at the (third)-quarter break and they reached those goals,” Karner said. “Some of those were points, some of those were rebounds and some of those were keeping the ball from being turned over. So they met their goals tonight.”

Haley Vinson scored 11 of her 19 points in the second half and had four steals and three assists for Faith Lutheran.

Morgan Hill added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Crusaders, who were 19 of 51 (37.3 percent) from the field.

Payton Naveran led Lowry (19-10) with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Spring Valley 53, Elko 39 — It took the Grizzlies nearly five minutes to get on the scoreboard Friday night, as the jitters of being a youthful and inexperienced team struck early.

Fortunately for Spring Valley’s girls, they have two of the most talented players on the floor in Essence Booker and Kayla Harris.

The two freshmen combined for 41 points to help the Grizzlies to a 53-39 win over Elko in the other Division I-A semifinal.

“People forget, even I forget, that they’re freshmen,” said Spring Valley coach Billy Hemberger, whose team missed its first eight shots.. “When they step on the court, they are the best two players on the court at all times.

“There’s no one on my roster that’s been in the playoffs before (this season). And until you live it, they were a little bit overwhelmed. That’s why I didn’t call a timeout when it was 6-0 early on. I just kept looking at them saying, ‘Calm down, we’ll eventually get our first bucket.’ That’s always the toughest part.”

Elko opened the game on a 6-0 run and forced five turnovers in the opening minutes. Booker’s layup with 3:12 left finally put the Grizzlies on the board, and it sparked the team’s 13-0 run.

“Rough start,” Booker said. “But if we hang our heads (there), then we’re not going to get anywhere. We just look past it and keep moving forward.”

Elko’s Desirea Danner, who finished with 11 points, ended the run with 6:05 in the second quarter with a free throw but the Indians never found their groove after.

Spring Valley led 20-13 at halftime before Booker took over in the second half, scoring 18 of her 24 points to give the Grizzlies control. Booker also had four steals and two assists.

“She has been unstoppable in the playoffs,” Hemberger said. “Before tonight, she was averaging 27.5 points a game in the playoffs. For girls basketball, she’s Lebron-ish. When she puts her head down and goes to the basket, there is not a human that can stop her. She can shoot from the outside; she can do everything.”

Spring Valley held its biggest lead, 53-35, with just less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

“Lately we have been coming out a little slow,” Hemberger said. “We’re trying to somewhat slow down the tempo early on, and then we wear teams down. Over the course of time, exactly what happened today, we just kind of wear teams down. We just have ballhawks and athletes.”

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at aferguson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.

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