By: John Knebels
Photos: Zamani Feelings
PHILADELPHIA –The game had been over for about 10 minutes. The subdued locker room in the northeast corner of the Palestra opened, and the Archbishop Wood players – visibly disappointed after an excruciating disappointment – filed out one after another.
The Vikings’ two first-team All-Catholics – senior Annie Whalen and sophomore Kaitlyn Orihel– were asked if they would conduct the interview that no one wishes to endure.
In a gracious display befitting of winners that scoreboards don’t represent, both players immediately acquiesced and summarized the disappointment of losing Monday night’s Catholic League championship to Archbishop Carroll, 48-42, in overtime.
“It’s a tough loss for us,” said Whalen, one of four upperclassmen on the Wood roster. “It was really disappointing. It’s really disappointing to lose this game, but we have still have a second chance at states.”
The Vikings, a three-seed that defeated defending champion, six-seed Cardinal O’Hara in the quarterfinals and then upset two-seed Neumann-Goretti in the semis, appeared to be fighting upstream from the jump. Even though top-seed Carroll separated itself, however, Wood did just enough to keep it close.
A 7-1 Wood deficit in the first quarter was offset by a 7-3 close. Trailing by 23-16 at halftime, the Vikings netted the first eight points of the third to move ahead, 24-23. It would be their last lead until overtime.
Carroll’s lead would extend to five, but the Vikings tied the game at 37-37 on a three-point swish by freshman Ryanne Allen (six points) with 1:46 remaining in regulation. A 39-39 deadlock was forged on a terrific drive by Orihel with 13 ticks left.
A three pointer by Wood junior Lindsay Tretter (eight points) off a feed from Orihel started the overtime, but Carroll star senior All-Catholic Erin Sweeney (18 points, eight rebounds) answered with a trey of her own, followed by a basket by freshman Grace O’Neill (13 points) and four free throws by Sweeney.
Orihel, who hit a last-second, game-winner against O’Hara and then starred in the victory over N-G, was in foul trouble for most of the second half. After being whistled for highly debatable fouls three and four, Orihel had to watch from the bench as her teammates tried to keep it close and, when on the floor, needed to be mega-careful to avoid being banished to the bench with her fifth.
“I’m not one to back off on defense,” said Orihel, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds, “but it definitely affects how I play because I have to be more cautious. But it is what it is.”
Choosing a mature approach, neither player lamented officiating as a key factor.
“It’s a big stage,” said Whalen. “The refs were trying to call it fair. The fouls weren’t always on our side, but I just played like I always try to play – hard – and see what happens.”
Orihel, who fouled out with 27.4 seconds left in overtime, spoke similarly.
“We came in really confident, and it didn’t go our way,” said Orihel. “We kept fighting until the very end. We had moments where we came back. The fouls didn’t go our way. It didn’t end the way we wanted. It’s really hard.”
One potential future advantage is that the underclassmen-laden Vikings will benefit from the adversity, especially in tight games that come down to the wire. This was a game in which the Vikings seemed to be constantly swimming upstream, but they maintained their balance to the point where they forged an overtime lead.
Although they played in some tough venues, nothing compares to the Palestra.
“It will help tremendously,” said Orihel. “It’s probably one of the hardest games we will have for the rest of the year. I think it’s a good learning experience.”
Wood coach Mike McDonald also stood tall in defeat.
“It’s the hardest environment, it’s the best environment,” said McDonald. “It’s really the biggest stage a high school kid could play on. It’s incredible and that’s why its’ so special to get here.
“I’m happy for the seniors to get here. Obviously, I wish they had a different result to go home with. They played their hearts out. They didn’t leave anything on the floor.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)