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PIAA 1A: Bullard's career high powers TCA past High Point

03/12/2023, 1:30pm EDT
By Missy Dougherty

Missy Dougherty (@Missyingyou)

The Christian Academy girls basketball team returned to the PIAA state playoffs for the first time in four years on Saturday night when the Crusaders took on High Point Baptist Academy at Delaware County Christian School.

Senior Amber Bullard made sure it would not be a short stay. 

The 6-foot-3 center celebrated the first state game of her career fittingly with a career-high 30 points, while also stuffing the stat sheet with 24 rebounds and four blocks as the District 1 1A champion Crusaders topped High Point, the fourth seed out of District 3, 55-33, in first-round action.

Asked what the squad talked about as the keys to the game, entering the contest, Bullard said The Christian Academy (20-7) had to focus on itself as opposed to its opponent.

 “We would just say playing our game … (you know) …  focusing on what we do best,” Bullard said.

TCA senior Amber Bullard scored a career-high 30 points in Saturday's win. (Photo: Sarah Gerlach/FCA)

From the opening tap, Bullard  showed that what she does best is take over a game when given the opportunity.

Bullard was virtually unstoppable in the opening quarter as High Point (16-7) made the decision to play her straight up and the Lasalle University commit made them pay with 17 points on the strength of an 8-for-10 performance from the field in the first eight minutes.

“I was very surprised,” Christian Academy coach Jason Wilt said as he talked about High Point’s decision to open in a straight-up man-to-man defense.

“It’s a good sign of her development that she can see that it’s 1-v-1 and that nine times out of 10 she has the matchup she wants.”

“I knew they had a choice – it’s full pressure on the rest of us and hope that we can’t get it to her or it’s just sink in and hope we don’t make jumpers.”

“They chose the first option and we were a little sloppy, but then found out we just needed to get it to her and that opened up a nice lead. Once we have a lead like that it’s a little tougher for a team just to sink in.”

Bullard’s standout first quarter helped the Crusaders move out to a 24-10 advantage with some fast-paced action on both ends of the floor.

On the defensive end, the Crusaders opened up in a trapping zone defense designed to take the ball out of the hands of senior point guard Bethany Thompson. Thompson had scored a team-high 24 points in the Eagles’ District 3 49-43 quarterfinal win over Veritas Academy.

“The goal was to get it out of (number) four’s hands and then not let it back if we could get a trap on someone else,” Wilt said. “We would have stayed in it had they not been playing such a high-paced game. We had to sit back and pack it in and catch our breath. Gabi Smith gives us good length at that point position and that makes it tough for some teams.”

“We knew (number) four kind of runs their whole team. It was a matter of containing her off the dribble and getting it out of her hands. That was our goal coming in.”

Action in the second quarter slowed down a bit as The Christian Academy found itself in the bonus with five minutes to go in the half.

The two teams played to an even quarter (10-to-10) but Bullard was still single-handedly outscoring the Eagles with 21 points as the Crusaders held a 34-20 advantage at the break.

“We talked at halftime about not letting them speed us up and being patient,” Bullard said.

While the theme in The Christian Academy’s locker room at the half was to slow down as a team, one can imagine High Point, a member of the Commonwealth Christian Athletic Conference, was wondering how to specifically slow down Bullard.

High Point’s answer in the second half was to sit back in a zone and double Bullard. Everywhere she went she had a lot of company.

“I have been double and triple teamed before ,” Bullard said. “I remembered just to be patient and to keep pushing and flash when I can, and finish strong.”

“It’s hard to duplicate in practice what teams do (in terms of the doubling),” Wilt said, “but we do our best to try.”

Bullard has found the value in simulating the pressure at practice. 

“I get to practice looking for other people whether they are cutting or just ball faking,” she said.

The Eagles’ extra attention on Bullard did hold her to only nine second-half points, but the Crusaders’ supporting cast stepped up to score 12 more while High Point could only come up with 13 of its own as the furious pace of the first half took its toll on both teams.

Bullard’s dominating 30-point performance surpassed her previous career-high of 26 scored against Sun Valley this past December.

Saturday night’s victory gives The Christian Academy’s senior class of Teah Mack, Lea Sareyka, Gabi Smith, and Bullard (who transferred in as a sophomore) 20 wins on the year after winning a combined 18 games over the previous three years.

The Crusaders now move on to face St. John Neumann, the second seed out of District 4, a 57-24 winner over Weatherly.

The question mark for Wilt is always how future opponents will scheme for Bullard.

Bullard for her part is just focused on one game at a time.

“It is hard to focus on so many rounds,” Bullard said. “But I feel like just taking the time to focus on this game. Okay, what mistakes have we made … let’s move onto the next one and fix those mistakes and keep going.

“You know we can’t focus too much on the future .. (you know) staying present … so, we have a game Wednesday and just focusing on that.”

By Quarter

High Point:         10  | 10 | 5 |   8 ||  33

Christian Academy:       24  | 10 | 8 | 13 ||  55


High Point: Bethany Thompson 13, Gracelyn Yarnell 8, Kelsey  Hoffman 5, Lily Seifert 5, Nora Fischer 2

Christian Academy: Amber Bullard 30, Gabi Smith 9, Lea Sareyka 8, Teah Mack 5, Anna Justus 2, Dami Adepipe 1

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