FLORENCE -- You couldn't quite blame the cold shooting in the first half for the Florence girls' basketball team. It had snowed about a foot on Thursday before the doubleheader rivalry match with Loyola Sacred Heart.
The Falcons did need to fix it, though, and they did, capturing a 51-36 win against the Breakers. In the boys' game, Loyola's fourth quarter finished off Florence, 69-50.
In the girls' game, it was Florence's defense that turned up the heat in the second half, leading to an offensive surge and a 12-4 run to close out the last 5:34 of the third quarter.
"We just stepped up on defense and actually started playing (in the second half)," Florence coach Duane Zeiler said. "...We just gotta keep up tempo and keep playing and keep working through it. Everyone is going to have a cold night, just hopefully it doesn't happen the whole game.
"Tonight, thank God, it only happened the first half instead of the whole game."
Florence's Danielle Zahn, who went down with what appeared to be a scary knee injury in the first half, came back in the second half rejuvenated. She canned a 3-pointer to start the run, making it 24-18, Florence's lead.
On the ensuing possession, Florence's trapping defense forced a Loyola turnover that turned into two points for the Falcons. Rilee Mangun, who gathered the steal, passed up to Autumn Round for an easy layup, and the Falcons were off and running, 26-18.
"They threw out their trap which we weren't anticipating as much as I would have hoped," Loyola coach Betsy Cornelius said. "They started hitting shots that they were missing in the first half, and I knew that was to come, but I was hoping it wouldn't."
Loyola's Natalie Goodman, who finished with seven points for the Breakers, came back to briefly break up the run on a cleverly designed inbounds play, but the Falcons were relentless.
Makenna Liles, who had just hit two free throws for Florence after Goodman's bucket, personified the unrelenting play on the Falcons' next trip down the floor. She gathered a Florence miss, missed herself, and then again, but she finally scored after three offensive rebounds.
"She's a strong player, and she's definitely very valuable to our team. Those second-chance shots help us win when our first ones aren't falling like they weren't tonight," Round, a senior, said.
Both teams traded buckets, and then a Liles steal and baseball pass to Chloe Arthur gave the Falcons a breakaway layup and a 34-22 lead. Loyola (0-1 in conference, 0-4 overall) couldn't tighten the deficit any more than that despite nine points from Tessa Burke in the fourth quarter.
Burke finished with a game-high 18 points for the Breakers in the teams' District 6-B opener.
Round countered with nine points in the fourth quarter, too, and she led the Falcons with 16 points. Liles finished with 12 more for the Falcons, who improved to 1-0, 4-0.
Loyola boys 69, Florence 50
It was the Loyola boys who remained undefeated in 6-B with their conference win against Florence in the doubleheader's second matchup.
Late in the third quarter the emotions of the rivalry game really showed themselves.
The Falcons trailed the Rams 38-30 late in the third before a Loyola technical sent Florence to the line. Brent Stroppel hit 1 of 2, and the Falcons scored on the added possession to make it 38-33.
Florence's Marcus Zeiler hit a 3-pointer -- his first of the night -- one possession after a David Koppang jumper, and the score was 40-36.
After both teams traded buckets, Florence's Brenden Bailey got in on the action with his first 3-pointer of the game, pulling the Falcons within one, 42-41. The Falcons had stolen the momentum with less than 5 seconds remaining in the quarter.
That was just enough time for Loyola's Fisher Richardson to take the momentum right back. He fired a half-court buzzer beater that went in, sending an already raucous crowd into a fit.
"I inbounded the ball; Kellen (Round) gave it back to me and I saw the clock running. I just let it go, and it felt good coming out," Richardson said. "We haven't won in this gym in awhile, so it was an awesome momentum builder."
Loyola fed off Richardson's long-range 3-pointer, outscoring Florence 24-9 in the final frame. Parker Davis, who led the Rams with 19 points, hit two of his four 3-pointers in the closing quarter.
"In the fourth quarter we didn't really match up that well," Florence senior Cody Liles said. "We kept on letting them get the easy 3-pointer and that's how they pulled away."
Richardson added 17 more for Loyola (2-0, 3-1) in the win, including the uplifting half-courter. For Florence (0-1, 1-3) Zeiler led the charge with 13 points. Liles added 12 more despite recording his fourth foul in the first half.