Senior Night didn’t unfold the way Kayli Sartori had envisioned, but in the end, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sartori, the Cascades’ fifth-year superstar, fouled out in the final regular-season home game of her career with 2:26 remaining in the third quarter. The Victoria Vikes led 44-40 at the time, and the hosts looked like they were in serious trouble.
But rather than devastate the Cascades, the shocking plot twist served to galvanize them. UFV caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 30 points in the frame to rally for a 75-66 victory on Saturday at the Envision Athletic Centre.
Sara Simovic (22 points) and Shayna Litman (20 points) spearheaded the comeback, and Sydney Williams (11 points) also scored in double figures as the Cascades improved to 11-7. They’re in sole possession of eighth place in Canada West, just behind Victoria (12-6), who had won Friday’s opener 68-57. The Vikes got a huge game from their own fifth-year standout Jenna Bugiardini (19 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks).
“When I fouled out, the girls just decided it was their game to take over and you can see the result,” said Sartori, who managed eight points, four rebounds and four steals in 19 minutes before taking a permanent seat on the bench. “There was no better seat in the house, and there was no better way to watch that all unfold.
“I honestly think that the outcome wouldn’t have been what it was if I had been on the floor. There was just so much heart and fight in the girls.”
The Vikes picked up where they’d left off the night before, leading 17-9 at the end of the first quarter and 33-26 at the half behind nine points from Nicole Karstein. They continued to keep UFV at bay in the third quarter, and appeared poised to pull away after Sartori was assessed her fifth and disqualifying foul for charging with more than 12 minutes left in regulation.
The Cascades, instead, dug their heels in. Williams and Simovic hit huge three-pointers early in the fourth to keep UFV close, and Taylor Claggett scored a pair of gritty buckets in the paint on consecutive possessions to give the Cascades their first lead of the night with four minutes to play. Simovic followed with eight points down the stretch, Victoria Jacobse hit a clutch shot with just over a minute left, and Litman hauled down a huge offensive rebound and went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the final minute.
“We had to do it for her,” Litman said afterward, speaking of Sartori. “We talked about it at halftime, because she was a little upset (that the Cascades were trailing), and we were like, we literally have to do this for her. It’s her last game, and beating Vic is huge because we have a rivalry with them.”
There’s a good chance it may be Litman’s last regular-season home game, too. The power forward is in her fourth year of eligibility, but she’s been at UFV for five – she redshirted last season after knee surgery. She’s on pace to complete her graduation requirements in the summer, and may not be back with the Cascades in the fall. So the win was special for her, too.
“It meant a lot,” Litman acknowledged. “It was good to see how everybody came together, all the rooks and everybody pitched in today and really stepped up. We weren’t selfish, and we just did what we had to do. No better way to go out than to play as a family.”
Cascades head coach Al Tuchscherer was heartened by the way his team responded in Sartori’s absence.
“It could have gone two different ways, and I was pleased to see that the girls really dug in at that point,” he said. “You could see their effort just went to another level – every loose ball was ours, rebounds were ours, and we were finishing with determination.
“I thought we had a great performance from Victoria and JZ (Jessica Zawada) off the bench, and Shayna, Syd and Sara really led us in that (fourth) quarter, which was good. That was almost their opportunity to let everybody know that they can lead too even when Kayli’s not there. That was pretty cool to see.”
And Tuchscherer’s thoughts on Sartori’s early exit?
“Probably appropriate for Kayli – she’s kind of a different athlete, right?” he said with a chuckle. “She never does things the conventional way. It doesn’t surprise me that she fouled out in the third quarter of her senior night.”