The second half of couldn't have started any better for Marist.
It took only six seconds for it to happen, and some fans probably hadn't made their way back from the restrooms or concession stand when Marian Catholic standout Simone Law was whistled for her third foul.
The Loyola University-bound senior retreated to the bench, and 40 seconds later Marist's Jetaun Rouse made a pair of free throws to cut Marian's lead to 24-20.
The Redhawks would later cut Marian’s lead to 27-24 on a bucket by Asiana Bey and seemingly had momentum in their favor. That was until Jasmine Matthews and Jamie Johnson ignited the Marian crowd with back-to-back three-pointers to make it a 33-24 game.
But, the Spartans’ fortunes soon came to an abrupt halt, albeit one that would prove to be extremely brief. Starting center Megan Walsh picked up her third foul with 3:36 left in the third quarter. Exactly two seconds later, Johnson was whistled for her third foul. All of a sudden, Marian was in deep foul trouble, and the momentum the Spartans had quickly gathered seemed ready to disintegrate.
"Coach always says it's not just about the starting five only, but we need everyone to come up and do what they need to do," Marian freshman guard Brianna Morrison said. "We understood we had to shut them down and kept playing with energy and enthusiasm and teamwork."
Matthews sliced through the Marist defense and made a crisp pass to Amber Williams for an easy basket to put the Spartans ahead 35-27. The Redhawks then went 3-of-6 from the free-throw line to close to within 35-30, but the Spartans finished the quarter on a 7-0 run—with Law sitting on the bench—to jump ahead to a 42-30 advantage.
"We've been in that situation before where we get in foul trouble and just have to play through it," Marian junior guard Alanna Ferry said. "We knew that was a big quarter for us and we just had to pick it up and get the momentum back, stop them and hit our shots, and that's what we did."
To add insult to injury, the Spartans closed the quarter on a runner in the lane by Johnson, which swished through the net as time expired.
Once the fourth quarter began, Marian Catholic coach Annie Basic-Byrne allowed Law to return to action. Law would make seven of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter, including her last five consecutively, and the Spartans prevailed 57-42, winning their 11th straight game and their third consecutive sectional title.
Now they'll look to finish a perfect February when they face Whitney Young in the Saint Xavier Supersectional on Monday.
One thing's certain: If the Spartans are going to continue winning, it's not going to be because of what Ferry, Johnson, Law, Matthews or Walsh do as starters or what Morrison, Amber Williams, Maryssa Cladis or Sarafina Handy do single-handedly off the bench. It’s what the group can do collectively as a team.
"This is a fired-up group, and when we slowed down and went away from what was working we figured out how to fix it," Matthews said. "Coach got on us during a timeout and we refocused and that helped us. This team has a lot of strengths and depth, and that's what helped us."
The Walsh Factor: The Eagles' Joe Walsh sang "Life's Been Good," and it was certainly better for Marian sophomore Megan Walsh, who contributed seven rebounds and four points in the victory. Meanwhile, Marist's Teagan Walsh finished her career with three-point, two-rebound performance.
Previously on Marist vs. Marian: When the teams faced each other on Dec. 11, Marian's Jasmine Matthews scored 25 pointed and Megan Walsh collected 11 rebounds in the Spartans’ 67-58 victory.
TV: Thursday night’s game was featured as The Comcast Network's Game of the Week. It's scheduled to be televised at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26 and 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 28, on CN100.
What's Next? Whitney Young, which ended Marian's season last March with a 74-57 victory in front of approximately 1,000 fans, lies ahead in Monday’s supersectional showdown.