Conrad made only one basket in the final quarter, but solid free throw shooting and offensive control was the difference in a 40-37 victory over three-time defending champion Ursuline Friday night.
The No. 3 seed set the tone early, taking a 12-3 lead after the opening quarter, sparked by winning the opening tip which led directly to Jordan Rook’s lay-up.
After an Alli Olmstead three-pointer for Ursuline, Conrad scored the final 10 points of the quarter, with four different Red Wolves finding the hoop, including six points from the Kulesza sisters, Julie and Stefanie.
Ursuline stormed right back in the second quarter, going on a 12-2 run to take the lead on Abigail Rzucidlo’s lay-up , but Ja’Nylah Whittlesey’s three-point play gave Conrad the advantage going into the locker room at 17-15.
The game remained close from there out, with neither team taking more than a three-point advantage in the third quarter, as the lead swapped hands twice in the final two minutes, with Ursuline’s Ana Olszewski hitting a three-pointer that was answered by a Rook lay-up that put Conrad ahead 29-28 going into the final quarter.
Stefanie Kulesza hit a three-pointer off a cross-court pass from Julie 13 seconds into the final quarter, and that served to be an important working margin.
After a series of free throws and a layup by Olmstead got Ursuline within 34-32, a foul on a box-out of a missed three-pointer by Julie Kulesza proved important, as it was ruled a part of the shot process, and Julie calmy pushed the lead back to 5 with 5:38 left.
The game remained 37-32 for nearly four minutes, as Conrad chose to spread the floor after Ursuline’s miss, possessing the basketball for nearly 2 minutes at one point without even getting inside the three-point arc.
Olivia Mason would eventually get a steal, and off of a Lauren Dorsey offensive rebound, Maggie Connoly’s jumpter cut the game to three with 1:56 left.
Stafanie Kulesza would hit a pair of free throws at the :50 mark to get the game to 39-34, made even more important as Alli Olmstead hit a three-pointer with 4 seconds left, but it was still a two-point deficit.
Julie Kulesza hit a free throw, but it still gave Ursuline a chance, but their 3/4 court heave at the buzzer was just a shade strong off the glass, and Conrad could celebrate its first trip to a state championship game in the school’s modern history.
Julie Kulesza scored 14 points, while Stefanie scored 11 for the Red Wolves, who also collected 7 points and 11 rebounds from Ja’Nylah Whittlesey.
Olmstead lead Ursuline with 11 points. Their state championship run ends at three-in-a-row.