Maria Backman is enjoying somewhat of a breakout season. When she joined the Cardinal Spellman girls basketball team as a freshman a year ago, Backman was told by head coach Jane Morris that she wouldn’t see much playing time, but she would learn from standouts Troi Melton, who is now at Boston University and Northeastern-bound Onia Webb.
Backman listed to the Pilots veterans and honed her skills over the summer with New Heights. Her improved skill set was evident Saturday afternoon when she poured in 26 points and 10 rebounds in Spellman’s 67-57 win against St. John Villa in The Bronx.
“We expected this from her,” Morris said. “We knew she was a good player.”
Backman, though, was at a loss for words after a huge performance.
“It’s kind of crazy,” she said shyly.
In a closely contested matchup of two of the top teams in the newly formed CHSAA Archdiocesan division, Backman scored 13 points in the first quarter, helping Cardinal Spellman (2-0) take a slim 36-33 lead into the half.
“The coach told us at halftime to keep our heads straight and go out and win the game,” said Webb, who had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Vanessa Stephens had 12 points, Teresa Tartarone had eight points and seven rebounds and Nicole Awooner-Renner had 14 rebounds as the Pilots exploited their height advantage in the third quarter and took a 52-40 lead into the fourth quarter.
“This was a big win for us,” Backman said. “We practiced really hard because we knew this was going to be a tough game with good 3-point shooting and a good team. We really focused a lot on defense…This was a great game for us to show what we can do.”
Danielle Iacampo scored 16 points, Paige Keane added 11 and Sam Long had nine for Villa (1-1), which doesn’t have a player on its roster taller than 5-foot-9.
“We needed to get back sooner and not let them shoot whenever they wanted to,” Villa coach Liz Blanchard said. “We rely heavily on the 3-pointer and we have a lot of good shooters. I’m not surprised with the outcome because Spellman always has a good program. My girls played well and they have to realize they’re going to be going up against more competition.”
While Morris isn’t thrilled about the additional travel in the newly formed Archdiocesan division, she likes the increased competition.
“These teams will keep coming at you and not stop even if they are losing,” Morris said. “This is the most well balanced team I have coached in a ling time and while we’re making some mistakes, they’re working very hard.”