Defense propels Faith Lutheran into Division I-A girls state final against Spring Valley

Faith Lutheran girls basketball coach Jennifer Karner knows defense plays a huge part on successful teams. That’s the reason she’s constantly pleading for tough, on-ball pressure.

Her girls got the memo Friday in the Division I-A state semifinals against Lowry.

The Crusaders forced 24 turnovers and held the Buckaroos to 27.1 percent shooting from the field to claim a 48-32 win at Silverado High School.

Faith Lutheran (23-6) will face Spring Valley (29-1) at 2:40 p.m. today at Orleans Arena in the state final. The Grizzlies defeated Elko 53-39.

“It’s nice to be back,” said Karner, whose team won the 2013 title. “Our defensive pressure held them to a very low score. The defense and rebounding really won the game for us.”

Faith Lutheran, which gave up only four first-half field goals, forced six turnovers and received a major spark off the bench from sophomore Bryanna Neagle to take control in the second quarter.

Neagle scored all five of her points and had four rebounds in the quarter to spark a 13-3 run in the first six minutes and help Faith Lutheran take a 23-11 lead.

“That was big,” Karner said of the run. “We talked about settling down now after the jitters were gone. Just coming out and playing our game, our brand of basketball. Bryanna had a great game. She comes in and plays as a sub, and she does a really good job of making the most of those minutes.”

The Crusaders got two 3-pointers and a short jumper on their first three possessions of the fourth quarter to take a 41-24 lead.

Haley Vinson scored 11 of her 19 points in the second half and had four steals and three assists for Faith Lutheran. Morgan Hill added 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Crusaders, who shot 19 of 51 (37.3 percent) from the field.

Payton Naveran led Lowry (19-10) with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Spring Valley 53, Elko 39 — It took the young Grizzlies almost five minutes to score. Fortunately for Spring Valley, it had two of the most talented players on the floor in freshmen Essence Booker and Kayla Harris, who combined for 41 points.

“People forget, even I forget, that they’re freshmen,” coach Billy Hemberger said. “They came out of middle school basketball last year. When they step on the court, they are the best two players on the court at all times.

“There’s no one on my roster that’s been in the playoffs before. And until you live it, they were a little bit overwhelmed. That’s why I didn’t call time out when it was 6-0 early on. I just kept looking at them saying, ‘Calm down, we’ll eventually get our first bucket.’ That’s always the toughest part.”

Elko opened on a 6-0 run and forced five turnovers against Spring Valley, which started 0 for 8 from the field. Booker’s layup with 3:12 left in the quarter put the Grizzlies on the board and started a 13-0 run.

Elko’s Desirea Danner, who finished with 11 points, ended the run with 6:05 left in the second quarter on a free throw.

Spring Valley led 20-13 at halftime before Booker took over, scoring 18 of her game-high 24 points in the second half.

“She has been unstoppable in the playoffs,” Hemberger said. “Before tonight, she was averaging 27.5 points a game in the playoffs. For girls basketball, she’s Lebron-ish. When she puts her head down and goes to the basket, there is not a human that can stop her. She can shoot from the outside; she can do everything.”

Hailee Simpson and Marissa Sandavol each scored eight points for Elko. Sandavol also had 13 rebounds, and Emily Elquist added 10 boards.

Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at aferguson@reviewjournal or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.

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