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Knights are stayin’ alive

February 9, 2012

TOMS RIVER— Just when it appeared the Wall girls basketball team would fall short of a Shore Conference Tournament birth, the Crimson Knights displayed the toughness and tenacity they have shown throughout much of the entire 2011-2012 season on Tuesday.
Trailing Monsignor Donovan by 10, 46-36, entering the fourth quarter on Tuesday night, Wall went from life support to a full recovery, erasing a 10-point deficit over the final eight minutes for a thrilling 54-51 victory.
The win moved the Crimson Knights to .500 [9-9] and, with only one game remaining against a one-win Howell squad on Friday before the Shore Conference Tournament [SCT] seeding meeting, put the team in a great position to make the cut. To earn a birth to the SCT, a team must be at or above .500 on Feb. 11.
Wall junior Kelsey Thompson led the team with 14 points in the victory over the Griffins, with senior Emily Cilinski and freshman Jessica Louro adding 11 and nine points, respectively.
“We told them it basically will come down to who wants it more — you have to have the bigger heart,” head coach Colleen Kilmurray said of her message to the team prior to taking the floor in the fourth quarter. “We told them we had to have a sense of urgency.”
The Crimson Knights displayed that urgency right from the get-go of the fourth quarter, opening up with a 9-0 run.
A free throw from Cilinski, a drive to the basket from junior Madison Mitchell and four straight points from Louro got things started, before Thompson added two more free throws to pull Wall within one, 46-45, with 6:10 remaining in the game.
Cilinski could see right away in the fourth quarter that the Crimson Knights were determined to leave Toms River with a ‘W’ over a good Monsignor Donovan team.
“I had so much faith in our team that we could pull it off,” Cilinski said. “There was no way we were walking out of there without a win. We had to give ourselves a chance to make it to the Shore Conference [Tournament].”
After a free throw from the Griffins extended the team’s lead back to 47-45, Wall got a strong effort back down on the other end from Mitchell, who grabbed a huge offensive rebound and earned a trip to the free-throw line.
Mitchell, who scored six points, showed her toughness in the fourth quarter, grabbing rebounds and taking charges which undoubtedly sparked the Crimson Knights.
Mitchell’s fire is nothing new to Kilmurray.
“Her soccer skills show off [in basketball],” Kilmurray said of Mitchell, who is also the goalie for the Wall girls soccer team. “She is like a cat and she loves to take charges. We always tell the girls how taking a charge is such a game-changer and how it motivates the team.”
After Mitchell knocked down her two shots from the charity stripe, Wall had tied the game at 47 with 5:24 to go.
“They played their hearts out and it showed,” Kilmurray said.
Monsignor Donovan would take a 52-51 lead with just under two minutes to play, before Louro buried the shot of the night.
Showing her poise, Louro, without hesitation, fired a 3-pointer from the right elbow, knocking down the shot to give Wall its first lead of the second half, 52-51, with just 1:16 remaining.
Kilmurray was happy to see the Crimson Knights heed her advice to keep shooting, despite a cold shooting night through the first three quarters.
“We hadn’t been hitting shots,” the coach said. “We told them to remain confident. They hit them when they mattered.”
Yet another steal from Mitchell would lead to two more free throws from Cilinski who extended Wall’s lead to three, 54-51.
The Crimson Knights were unable to close out the game from the free-throw line late, but a final effort 3-pointer from the Griffins fell short as the buzzer sounded, prompting a group celebration from the girls in red.
Kilmurray was proud of her group, which she knows is ready to close out a special run to the SCT on Friday.
“We came in [to the team room] after the game and on the white board they had written, “It’s not over,’” Kilmurray said. “They are feeling pretty good.”

Wall will be the favorite tomorrow at home against Howell, but the group is not about to take the Rebels lightly.
“We know we have to come out focused and play hard,” Cilinski said.
“We have to play hard right from the first quarter and we can’t have any lapses,” added Thompson. “We need to work together as a team and play well the whole time.”
The tip-off between Wall and Howell is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.!/SamCostantino

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