Ursuline defeats Sanford 39-34 to capture 16th girls’ state hoop title

NEWARK — The steady free throw shooting of Maggie Connolly led to yet another state title for the Ursuline Academy girls’ basketball team.

Connolly went six-for-six from the free throw line in the final 34 seconds as top seed Ursuline held off third-seeded Sanford School for a 39-34 victory in the DIAA girls’ basketball state tournament on Friday night.

“I wanted it in her hands,” said Ursuline coach John Noonan. “She knocked them down and I don’t even think she touched the rim. She was calm, cool and collected, it’s unbelievable.”

It’s the second consecutive girls’ basketball state championship for the Raiders and the 16th in their history.

Ursuline was up by double-digits in the second half before Sanford eventually made it a one-possession game with 3:46 left. The Warriors went on a 13-5 run to cut Ursuline’s lead to 32-29.

Taylor Samuels banked in a bucket from underneath the basket to make it 32-32. Since the Warriors only had two team fouls, they spent the next minute and a half going for steals and eventually fouling Ursuline enough to put the Raiders in the bonus.

With 34 seconds left, Connolly was sent to the line for the first time. She calmly drained both.

Chrishyanah Alston brought Sanford back within a point on the next possession. The Warriors fouled Connolly again to send her back to the line with 12 seconds left and again she went two-for-two.

“There was a lot of noise I just tried to block it out and focus on making the shot,” Connolly said. “It’s definitely exciting and I was just glad to have the opportunity.”

Samuels was off an a three-point attempt that would have tied the game and Ursuline corralled the rebound. Connolly was fouled for the third time and was again perfect from the line before a desperation heave from Sanford came up well short.

“She’s always played well on this floor,” Noonan said. “She always hits big shots. She’s being recruited by some major schools for a reason.”

Connolly ended as Ursuline’s leading scorer as the sophomore had 12 points on the night. Olivia Mason added nine points and eight rebounds for the Raiders while senior Alyssa Irons scored six points.

Alston finished as the game’s top scorer with 15 points.

“She’s tough to defend,” Noonan said. “She really is, hats off to her. … What was going through my mind? Zeros. Get that clock to zeros.”

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