In a showdown of girls basketball unbeatens last night at the Sullivan Center, Central Catholic proved it is still the team to beat in the City League.
The second-ranked Irish overcame poor shooting from the field with a superb 28-of-36 effort from the foul line en route to a 68-55 victory over 13th-ranked Start.
Senior standouts Kelly Helvey and Nicole Brown notched 22 points apiece to lead the way for Central (11-0, 6-0), which won for the 72nd time in a row in CL play.
Start (10-1, 5-1) kept things close early, but gave up the lead for good when Helvey hit the first of her two 3-pointers to put Central up 12-9 with 1:35 left in the first quarter.
After Start's Angela Gray answered with a bucket from the lane, Helvey's second trey put Central ahead 15-11. That was the start of an 18-6 run by the Irish, who ultimately took a 36-23 lead to halftime on Brown's layup on a feed from Helvey 0:27 before the break.
“At halftime we came out harder because our defense wasn't very good and [assistant coach Marty] McGurk really got on us,” Helvey said. “We came out, got some steals, got a lot of intensity and just played good offense.
“People concentrate on the outside shot, but we've got a strong inside game with Nicole and Joan [Brooks]. It's good to have a good inside-out game.”
The Irish took control in the third quarter, building their lead to 44-27 on Sonya Coleman's 10-footer with 4:39 left in the period.
The Spartans, who hit 14 of 31 shots after halftime, made a small run at Central, cutting the deficit to 47-37 on a Shanell Manees layup with 1:47 left in the third. But that was as close as Start got, despite Central's dismal 1-for-15 shooting in the final quarter.
“I thought we had prepared very well during the week because we had three excellent practices,” said Irish coach Steve Pfahler, who was not altogether pleased with his team's performance.
“I don't think we did a good job defensively at all, Start got what they wanted, and we were just fortunate they missed shots.”
Central, which hit just 19 of 55 from the field, cashed in on 18 of 20 free throws in the second half, including 12 of 14 in the final period.
The Irish outrebounded Start 44-39 and forced 16 turnovers while committing 12. Brown and Irish forward Brooks topped the rebounding list with 10 each. Sophomore Jessica Minnfield added nine points.
Start's Karis Hood and Vicki Brown pulled down eight boards each for the Spartans, who were 22 of 59 from the field and nine of 19 from the line.
“They killed us on the boards,” Start coach Lorie Pietrasz said. “Especially when Vicki went down with the early fouls. We kind of lost our inside presence, and then they just wore us down.
“If they weren't hitting the first shots, they were shooting until they made 'em. We couldn't get on a run. When we scored, they answered. I thought we played hard.”
Vicki Brown paced Start with 13 points. Hood and Brooke Walker added eight apiece.