By: John Knebels
SOUDERTON, PA – They simply find ways to win.
Archbishop Carroll shrugged off numerous deficits, in-and-out shots, foul trouble, and a very strong opponent Tuesday night to advance to the PIAA Class 5A state championship. The Patriots’ 39-32 overtime triumph over Southern Lehigh was yet another testament to the District 12 champion’s resolve and set up a state title bout with 29-0 District 7 top-seed Chartiers Valley 6:00 Saturday in Hershey.
“I’ve never been able to go to Hershey,” said senior Harlem Jennings. “This is amazing. It really is so amazing.”
It was far from easy. Both teams traded leads throughout, and both squads had chances to win the game dramatically in regulation. But to the delight of a raucous crowd, an extra four minutes were put on the clock.
Although the Patriots (25-5) didn’t score any more baskets, they did swish nine of 10 free-throw attempts. Junior Erin Sweeney (team-high 14 points) and senior Mary deSimone (11) both drilled all four of their foul shots in overtime.
Freshman Grace O’Neill netted 10 points and somehow avoided serious injury when she slammed to the ground with 5:17 left in regulation. Undaunted, O’Neill stayed around and performed splendidly the rest of the way.
“My teammates have really helped me,” said O’Neill, after being asked about her steady improvement throughout the season. “I didn’t know the plays at first. It was really hard to adjust from a CYO level. There’s so much more competition.”
Sweeney, the Pats’ first-team All-Catholic, talked about Carroll’s perseverance against a Southern Lehigh squad (26-4) that lost to Carroll in the season opener and has now dropped the last three semifinals – all at Souderton.
“It was a tough game,” said Sweeney. “They defensed us really well. It’s probably one of the toughest ones we have played this season.”
Jennings, who scored five points and contributed her typical standout defense, notched her fourth foul with the Pats trailing, 26-23, and 7:10 left in the fourth.
“It definitely (was difficult) not being able to be as aggressive as I usually am,” said Jennings. “I had to stay smart . . . can’t reach in . . . can’t block that shot.”