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Clare Droesch steals show at SJU

It was Senior Day for the St. John’s women’s basketball team Saturday at Alumni Hall, but while Red Storm players Telisha Warner, Rasheedah Brown and Kenyawna Hudgens were honored before their final home game, the loudest cheers of the afternoon were reserved for former Christ the King star Clare Droesch, who made her return to Queens with Boston College.

The official attendance was 450, but it seemed at least half were there for Droesch, including what appeared to be almost all of her Belle Harbor neighbors and about 30 immediate family members.

The 5-foot-11 freshman forward didn’t disappoint, breaking out of a recent shooting slump by scoring 19 points in her first career start to help lead the 21st-ranked Eagles to an easy 85-43 win.

“When I first got introduced, it hit me,” said Droesch, whose eyes lit up when she heard the ear-piercing shrieks from behind the Boston College bench. “When I was younger I would always come to these games and watch St. John’s. It’s just weird being on the court and it all just came back to me.”

Among those in attendance was her coach at Christ the King, former neighbor Bob Mackey.

“It’s a great feeling seeing kids you watched as freshmen who were scared of their own shadow, although not so much in the case of Clare, and see them step up and play at whatever level they play at in college,” he said. “It’s great seeing her do well. She’s a very special kid.”

Boston College head coach Cathy Inglese said because of the emotion of returning home for the first time, she contemplated having Droesch come off the bench, where she is second on the team averaging 10.6 points per game before telling her Friday night she would start because of an injury to starting small forward Nicole Conway.

What made her decision even tougher was that Droesch has struggled recently, shooting a combined 6-of-34 in her last four games.

But against St. John’s (3-22, 0-14) the two-time Big East Rookie of the Week netted 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three-point range. She was six points shy of her season-high 25 points, which she scored against Georgetown Feb. 2. She also had 24 points against St. Joseph’s Dec. 1.

“The way she got out of it was she came in the gym and worked,” Inglese said. “That’s what she hadn’t been doing in the middle of the season. This past week she came in two or three days and worked herself out and really played with a lot of confidence today.”

Droesch certainly looked right at home early on, finding Rachel Byars with a beautiful no-look pass for a layup. She followed with a three from the right wing to put Boston College (21-5, 12-3) ahead, 13-0 less than three minutes into the game.

In addition to 19 points, the Big East Rookie of the Year candidate had four assists, four rebounds, three blocks and two steals in 30 minutes.

“I wasn’t just looking for points, I wanted to pass the ball well and work on my other parts of my game because this is a game you need to do the things to prepare for a better team,” she said. “I think we did good in the second half.”

The Eagles, who were led by Amber Jacobs’ game-high 26 points, including 6-of-11 from three-point range, extended its lead from 13 at halftime to 41 late in the second half.

The Red Storm, who could go winless in conference play with a loss in its regular season finale at Syracuse in a game played Tuesday, played well in the first half despite limited numbers because of injury. But interim head coach Pechone Stepps said it was a lack of effort that hurt his team in the second half.

“Today was the first day I was disappointed with our effort in the second half. We basically gave up at the nine minute mark,” said Stepps. “I think we could play with any team in the Big East, but today we didn’t have a great effort.”

Freshman Mary-Pat Statler scored a team-high 11 points and Amanda Rawson and Patrycia Gulak added 10 points apiece for the Red Storm.

With the game well out of reach, Inglese took Droesch out of the game with 1:04 left to a huge ovation. After a team meeting in the Boston College locker room, Droesch quickly got changed to meet her family and friends in the Alumni Hall lobby. From there, it was back to Belle Harbor for a team dinner at the Droesch house before returning to Boston.

Droesch said the combination of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which took the lives of so many firefighters from Belle Harbor, and the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, which killed five of her neighbors, has brought that tight-knit community even closer.

“I lost a lot of people in the whole thing and their families are with me. I think it brought us closer,” she said. “It’s definitely a closer community now and it’s good to know that people are going out, like today, everyone coming out. I’m just doing it for them. Everything I do is for my family and for the following I have.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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