SOUTHWEST GLENDALE — It was a furious, yet improbable and perhaps unforeseen offensive outburst for the Holy Family basketball team in the fourth quarter of its Horizon League contest with first-place Bishop Conaty-Loretto.
The second-place Gaels struggled in the first three quarters of the second meeting of the season between the two teams, struggling to make just six field goals for 16 points.
Then everything changed. Led by Gaby Diaz, Holy Family's offense came alive in the fourth quarter, as the team shot seven of 18 and outscored Bishop Conaty-Loretto by 10 in the frame to hand the Wildcats their first loss in league play this season, 36-32, Tuesday at Pacific Park Community Center.
Diaz scored seven of her team-high 16 points in the fourth, including two late free throws that sealed the win for Holy Family (5-15, 5-2 in league), which trailed for most of the game and by six after three quarters.
"We worked together, communicated and our shots started going down," said Diaz, who was active on both ends, as she added six steals and two blocks to her 16 points. "The momentum from our fans got us going and we weren't going to give up."
With the win, the Gaels kept their league title hopes alive. By winning its final league contest against San Gabriel Mission next Tuesday, Holy Family can clinch a share of the league championship with Bishop Conaty-Loretto if the Wildcats (7-8, 6-1) lose in their finale against L.A. Sacred Heart of Jesus on Thursday.
Both teams struggled to score throughout the contest. Bishop Conaty-Loretto doubled Holy Family's output of first-half field goals, 8-4, but held a modest 18-12 halftime advantage.
Offense was hard to come by at both ends in a third quarter that saw eight combined points and four made field goals. The equally inept offense by both sides benefited Bishop Conaty-Loretto, which maintained a six-point lead.
Then the fourth quarter came and Holy Family's shots started falling down. The Gaels started the quarter on a 9-1 run, prompting a Wildcats timeout after Elena Lomeli gave Holy Family its first lead since Diaz hit a three-pointer for the team's first points of the game with 6:20 remaining back in the first quarter.
Diaz's steal and layup tied the game at 23 the possession prior to Lomeli's offensive rebound and putback.
The Wildcats responded out of the timeout by going on a 7-0 run to regain the lead at 30-25. With just over two minutes left, it looked like the Gaels were going back to their original struggles until Diaz connected on another three-pointer to cut the lead down to two.
The Gaels kept up the regained momentum and ended the game scoring eight of the final 10 points to avenge a 37-31 loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season.
Natalia Neris' three-point play highlighted the run in which she scored four of her seven points over the final two minutes.
"It was a battle between two teams who really wanted to win," Gaels Coach Ernest Siy said. "Early on we were committing too many turnovers — more than usual — but we eliminated the turnovers and executed on offense."
Bishop Conaty-Loretto's Justine Zepeda led all scorers with 18, including the only field goal for the Wildcats in the final two minutes, which brought her squad within one possession.
But Diaz hit two clutch free throws and ended all hope for the Wildcats.
"We need her in the game for the whole game," Siy said of his senior point guard. "She provides leadership and calms everyone down. As she goes, the team goes."