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Niles' defense leads St. Mary's past Trinidad in battle of unbeatens
St. Mary’s decided to venture out of its comfort zone on Thursday.
Maybe the most uncomfortable person during that venture was Pirates coach Mike Burkett, who opted to run a man-to-man defense instead of the Pirates’ customary 1-3-1 zone.
When the final horn sounded, Burkett had reason to relax, as St. Mary’s held previously unbeaten Trinidad to its lowest score of the season in a 33-28 victory that puts the Pirates in the driver’s seat for the 3A Tri-Peaks East League crown.
“(Nicole Niles) played Chelsea Velasquez ... about as good a defense as you can,” Burkett said.
Niles also tied Velasquez with a game-high 13 points. Entering the game, Velasquez, the Miners’ leading scorer, was averaging 17.4 points per game. On Thursday, no other Trinidad player had more than seven.
“She’s a great player; it was so hard,” Niles said. “But I knew with my defense behind me ... they made it a little bit easier on me.”
Emily Whitelaw finished with 11 and Gabi Florek scored nine for the Pirates (10-0, 6-0 conference). But it was Niles’ 2-pointer on an inbounds pass from the corner with 3:43 left that put the Pirates up 31-25 and the game out of reach.
“I knew where the basket was,” Niles said. “I was hoping it was going in, and luckily it did.”
Before Niles could score, it took a great effort from sophomore Sarah Burns to turn a Trinidad rebound into a jumpball and possession for the Pirates.
“I think that was definitely the game-changing play,” Niles said.
Less than 2 minutes earlier, Whitelaw hit a 3-pointer from the same corner.
“I just noticed (the defender) wasn’t stepping up,” Whitelaw said. “I kind of just took the shot. I don’t normally shoot 3s.”
Not only does she not often shoot 3s, but it was her first successful 3 of the season.
The victory leaves the Pirates as the only undefeated team in the league and has them sitting in first place.
“For the last two years, three years, it’s been us and Trinidad battling it out for the league championship,” Burkett said. “This really gives us the advantage.”
The Miners (9-1, 4-1) committed five turnovers in the third quarter while shooting 2-for-7. The Pirates held Trinidad to six points in that period and all of one 3-pointer in the final period when the Miners shot 1-for-10.
“I was surprised at them at man (defense),” Trinidad coach George Dasko said. “I thought we’d function much better against man, because we play against man all the time in our practices.”
While the Miners will be ready for that defense when the teams meet next month, the Pirates might spring it on another unsuspecting opponent down the road.
“It’s going to give us the confidence we’re going to be able and willing to play different kinds of defenses on different kinds of teams,” Niles said. “It gives us a preview of what we can do.”