By Donald Daniels
Nothing was going to stand in Destiny Ryles' way Friday in a B Conference semifinal at Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
And the St. Paul's School for Girls senior guard had the cuts on her face and a knot on her arm to prove it.
Ryles was relentless and had to pick herself up off the floor early and often in route to scoring a game-high 30 points, guiding the Gators to a 65-59 over the second-seeded Cougars.
Leading by three points after two made free throws and 20 seconds left in the game, Ryles was fouled and put on the charity stripe for a one-and-one.
After missing that attempt before the Cougars had a turnover, Ryles was put on the free throw line again and this time buried both shots to seal the win.
“I feel like this team just brought it all tonight,” Ryles said. “We all contributed to this game, not just me.”
“They were definetly mental tough, they rallied as a whole, it didn’t matter who we had in the game,” St. Paul’s couch Pat Conrad said. “They fought hard to the end and I am proud of their effort.”
Freshman Laurie Satchell finished with 10 points and junior Alex Sawers netted nine for the Gators.
On the Mt. Carmel side, Ariana Alleyne had a game-high 14 alongside Ayana Brim, who had 13 points.
St. Paul’s, which is looking to win its first basketball crown in eight years, will take on top-seeded Mount de Sales at Stevenson University on Sunday.
One of the biggest keys to victory for the Gators was their rebounding, grabbing 18 more rebounds than Mt. Carmel.
The Gators (17-3) raced out to 7-2 run to start the game with a Ryles layup, a Satchell jumper and a Sawers trifecta.
Mt. Carmel quickly countered and with a 9-2 run fueled by Olivia Harris and Ariana Alleyne giving the Cougars a two-point lead.
Ryles finished the opening quarter scoring the next eight Gator points to forge a 17-14 lead at the end of the first.
“She [Ryles] is a tough kid, mentally tough and we are lucky to have her,” Conrad said.
The start of the second quarter saw Ryles weave her way past two defenders in the paint for an old-school three-point play balloon the advantage to six points.
Mt Carmel never got closer than five points in the first half after that stretch and trailed, 28-21, at the intermission.
St. Paul’s senior sharpshooter Ava Wax (8 points) was red-hot to start the third quarter, nailing her first two three-point attempts and connecting on two free throws to build the Gators a 34-23 cushion.
Late in the third quarter, the Cougars (19-8) were able to close the Gator gap to four points after a post move by Brim and a Jaylah Lewis three-pointer.
However, Ryles and Sawers made highly contested jumpers to keep the Cougars at bay, even though Mt. Carmel was able to inch closer before Ryles put the game away.
"I have never ended the season thanking players in a setting like this, but my first two words to the team after loss was 'thank you.' " Mt Carmel coach Rob Long said. "I explain why I thanked them because I had more fun than I ever had coaching kids that no one wanted coming out of middle school, and now look at how far they got us."