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St. John Villa ends Mary Louis slump

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The Mary Louis Academy looked like its old self again.

For about a week, Coach Kevin White was questioning his team’s effort and overall play as the Hilltoppers looked sluggish in a loss to Rumson-Fair Haven last Saturday. Even an impromptu whiffle ball game at practice didn’t fix the problem as TMLA, which did have two starters sick, squeaked out a win against Long Island Lutheran on Monday.

Mary Louis showed early against St. John Villa that it has started to move past the forgettable week. The Hilltoppers jumped out to a 14-point first quarter lead behind three three-pointers from Amanda Burakoski and an energized Karin Robinson, who also connected on a trey, and never looked back.

TMLA went on to cruise to a 52-40 victory in a non-league girls’ basketball game on Staten Island Friday afternoon. It was the regular-season finale for both teams.

Burakoski scored 12 points and back-up guard Camille Romero had 13. Ten different players scored for Mary Louis. Shpresa Liharevic led Villa with 18 points and Kelly Harden added nine.

“We came out a lot stronger in the first quarter this game than the past three games we’ve played,” Burakoski said.

White was also pleased with his squad’s effort.

“They came out today the way I want us to come out,” he said. “We played as a team. We shared the ball. We played with enthusiasm. We played with energy. It is something we need going into the playoffs.”

Mary Louis (17-7) led 14-0 early and 22-8 after the first quarter, but Villa (11-13) cut the lead to 39-27 with 40.9 left in the third as Liharevic scored six straight points. The Hilltoppers, though, responded with a quick 8-2 spurt at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth to take a 47-29 lead with 4:25 remaining in the game.

“It’s almost like you can inch your way back in and it’s like a tease, because they will just go on another run,” Villa Coach Liz Blanchard said.

While the team has gone through a rough stretch, Romero has become a consistent bright spot for the Hilltoppers. She had 11 points, including the game-winning free throws, against Long Island Lutheran, nine points against Molloy on Feb. 11 and has scored double-digits with more regularity in the second half of the season.

“Pretty high,” Romero said of her confidence. “Like Kevin always says, ‘When you’re open, shoot it.’ I take all the open shots I can get.”

Those are there because the junior will certainly not be the focal point of opponent’s defenses with stars like Robinson and Burakoski on the court.

“I think she realized that we need her to step up,” Burakoski said. “She is kind of like a secret weapon.”

If she keeps it up, it might not stay that way for long.

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