CYO girls teams clamor for titles, see green

MERRILLVILLE – Already into meteorological spring, four diocesan girls basketball teams sprang forward to carry their school’s victory banner at the Catholic Youth Organization championships hosted at Andrean High School.
Excitable boosters filled the gymnasium on March 17, and, as luck would have it, there was one school whose patron was celebrated nationally that day. Many families and friends came donned in green spirit wear, and that was particularly true for the St. Patrick of Chesterton’s bleacher section.
In the fifth-grade game, though, St. Mary Catholic Community School of Crown Point launched a strong offensive charge against the Irish and tallied a 7-4 lead by the end of the first quarter. But the Wildcats would relinquish their lead as St. Pat’s defense held them scoreless in the second quarter, and the Chesterton squad went into the locker room with a 10-7 advantage.
On the strength of Addison Hicks’ 9-point performance, the Irish would stay ahead of the Wildcats. They claimed their first diocesan title, with an 18-17 victory in the final to the delight of the green-clad crowd.
The following sixth-grade match featured another St. Mary’s team that squared off with St. Michael the Archangel. A slow start by both teams saw the Warriors lead 1-0 at the end of the first period. By halftime, the Wildcats clawed to a 7-5 advantage.
Three treys by Ava Grace Pineda helped the Wildcats leap ahead to a 23-11 win and go 10-0 on the season. New to St. Mary, Pineda described the school setting as “super friendly.”
The sixth grader said, “I was really desperate to win this game, so I tried super hard.”
Warriors coach Edward Dabrowski said that although the team lost twice to St. Mary, they won all other games and felt the team built something to be proud of.
“We were 9-6 last year and we finished the season 14-2,” he explained. “I think it was the first time we were in a (large) gym like this and we didn’t stick to our offense today.”
Sommer Branigin, a seventh-grader from St. Mike’s and daughter of coach Timothy Branigin, reflected on the season as their championship game rivals of St. Stanislaus remained on the court to cheer their victory. The Lady Warrior said the Falcons of the East Chicago Catholic school taught them much.
“We played this team a lot throughout this season, we’ve learned a lot from them, we’ve learned how to adjust … they just ended up on top; there’s not much more to say about that,” Sommer Branigin said. 
Looking at a 26-16 result through a different lens, St. Stan’s girls were thrilled about the result of a game that saw them build on a 16-6 halftime lead.
Falcons coach Terrell Dates has coached most of his players for three years at St. Stan’s. He said the girls’ work ethic – on display with their stifling defense – has helped them enjoy success.
“They work hard in the off season, they work hard during the season and they play as a family; they are a really close-knit team,” the coach explained.  
Dates’ gameplan, which kept Wildcats shooters out of the paint and off balance, was something that gave players confidence.
“I feel pretty good. I woke up today a little nervous because (the Wildcats) are really hard-hitters,” said Mackayla Gary, who is in eighth grade (on a combined team). “But I know defense is key. Offense can mean a lot too, but today our defense is how we won.”
By the conclusion of the eighth-grade championship contest, many were thinking about the saint that brought the faith to the Emerald Isle. Perhaps his intercession assisted the Irish of Chesterton, who bookended the finals event with victories for their school.
But it was not lucky charms that brought good fortune to the Irish. The team built an 18-8 halftime surplus en route to their pot o’ gold, which was a 30-16 clipping of the St. John the Evangelist Eagles and a league title.
For the St. John squad, Mia Krueger was the leading scorer, notching nine points for the runners-up. Taylor Kisic scored 15 points to pace the Irish.
“It for sure was a special day … the girls got an extra bit of boost and motivation, a sense of specialness to win the CYO tournament on St. Patrick’s Day representing their school,” said Irish coach Joan Kisic.
Besides the good feelings during four successful quarters using their five-man-out offense and zone defense, the end of the game was when special memories were made, as the younger fifth-grade Irish stuck around to make a winner's tunnel for their older schoolmates.
“I think we all played really smart and used everything we learned over the years and the season,” said Taylor, who witnessed two fifth grade Irish players – her sisters Isabela and Sofija – lead a celebration. “I think I helped motivate everyone on and off the court.”


Caption: St. Michael the Archangel player Adriana Dabrowski (right) takes three-point shot over St. Mary Catholic Community School of Crown Point defenders during the sixth-grade game of the girls Catholic Youth Organization basketball championships hosted at Andrean High School on March 17. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)