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posted: 2/14/2010 12:01 AM

St. Joseph gives Wheaton Academy a learning experience

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Wheaton Academy hadn't played a team like St. Joseph all season. The Warriors hope they gained something from the experience.

The host Chargers pulled away from Wheaton Academy in the fourth quarter for a 58-39 nonconference victory in Westchester on Saturday.

"This is one of the best teams that we played," Warriors point guard Sydney Sharkey said. "It definitely shocked us in the beginning, but we adjusted pretty well."

St. Joseph's quick, aggressive defense forced the Warriors to change their offense, taking away one of the Warriors' favorite weapons, the 3-pointer.

"They're very, very athletic," Sharkey said. "They really intimidated us in a way, but then we got it down. We figured out their defense and just decided to penetrate instead of shooting."

"That was Ashley's job to guard the younger Sharkey," St. Joseph coach Jim Maley said of senior guard Ashley Tolbert. "We know she can shoot."

Even when Wheaton Academy got the ball into the lane, St. Joseph's height made a basket far from a sure thing. Shannika Bryant, a 6-foot-4 senior, blocked 5 Wheaton Academy shots and 6-3 junior Chanel Wilson-Stewart added 2 more blocks off the bench.

Wheaton Academy fell behind by 7 points in the first quarter but rallied to a 12-12 tie after eight minutes. The Warriors went up 20-16 in the second period only to see St. Joseph close on a 13-2 run into halftime.

Wheaton Academy, the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A Nazareth sectional, stayed close to No. 5 St. Joseph in the third quarter despite losing leading scorer Alexa Sharkey to a head injury early in the period. St. Joseph scored the first 15 points of the fourth, however, to turn the game into a rout.

That's nothing new for the Chargers (16-10).

"Our girls work hard the whole game, and our guards, they move their feet," Maley said. "They really tend to wear guards down, so the fourth quarter tends to be our quarter. And today they did their job."

"That's definitely one of the best teams we've played this year by far," Wheaton Academy coach Beth Mitchell added. "It was unfortunate obviously that Lex got hurt. It changed the whole complexion of the game so to speak, down the stretch."

Bryant and senior Dee Gray each scored 21 points for St. Joseph, with Bryant adding 12 rebounds and Gray 7. Gray had 6 assists to her center for easy baskets down low.

"We just wanted to work the ball and get it inside against the zone if we could," Maley said.

"I'm really proud of the kids," Mitchell added. "When you look at it size for size, St. Joe's is just huge. We had chances, we had opportunities. We missed some shots down the stretch there, and unfortunately they were able to blow the game open."

Sydney Sharkey finished with 13 points and 5 assists, most to 6-1 senior Kristine Egebrecht, who scored 12 points inside and collected 7 rebounds.

"I definitely think this is the biggest learning experience out of the game because I'm used to shooting and this time I was supposed to penetrate," said Sydney Sharkey, a sophomore. "It definitely taught me a lot."

The Warriors begin play at the King regional Tuesday afternoon against either Lindbom or Tilden.

"I'm thankful that we had the chance to play this kind of team going into the playoffs, because like I told (the Warriors), if we want to have any chance to win anything in the postseason, you've got to be able to beat teams like this," Mitchell said. "It's a good challenge for us."