By: John Knebels
SPRINGFIELD, PA – Down 8-0 on Senior Night at a buzzing Cardinal O’Hara, it appeared as though West Catholic was in for a long evening.
That’s why high school basketball games are 32 minutes long.
With junior Destiney McPhaul taking over in the third quarter and turning a 31-31 tie into a 51-43 West Catholic lead, the Burrs defeated the Lions, 65-57, and forged a tie for third place in the rugged Catholic League Red Division.
With a three-game winning streak and consecutive victories over second-place Neumann-Goretti and third-place Cardinal O’Hara, it has reached a point whereby a West Catholic triumph should no longer include subjective verbs such as “upset” or “stunned.”
With the playoffs looming and the top four teams in the Red gaining a first-round bye, the Burrs have established themselves as a legitimate contender.
“My team’s pretty unpredictable this season,” said West Catholic coach Beulah Osueke. “I never really know what’s going to factor into our starts. I think the number one thing is to emphasize what they’re doing well and be specific about what we can improve on.
“This game in particular, we just lacked the energy and we weren’t boxing out. So we kept emphasizing that. I knew that if I impressed upon them to turn it up defensively that the offense would come.”
O’Hara (14-4 overall, 6-4 division) led by 19-15 after the first quarter, but aided by junior Daziy Montgomery-Wilson (eight of her 13 points were scored in the second quarter), West Catholic (14-6, 6-4) engineered a 16-12 advantage over the next eight minutes to tie the game heading into halftime.
In the third and fourth, McPhaul displayed some of the prowess that led her to be named a first-team All-Catholic last year. After scoring nine of the Burrs’ 20 points in the third to help West snare a 51-43 lead, McPhaul added six in the fourth to finish with a game-high 23 points, 13 rebounds, and five assists.
Undaunted when trailing by 53-43 early in the fourth, the Lions went on a 14-4 run to establish a 57-57 stalemate with 2:40 remaining in regulation. West Catholic then increased its intensity on defense, holding the Lions scoreless the rest of the way.
Junior Ciani Montgomery gave the Burrs a 59-57 lead, which swelled to 61-57 on two free throws by McPhaul. In desperation mode, the Lions fouled Tamiah Robinson twice and watched her convert four straight foul shots.
The team’s only senior starter, Robinson finished with eight rebounds and 17 points via two three’s, three baskets, and five-for-five marksmanship from the charity stripe.
“Sometimes we can be inconsistent and start off slow, but then we figure it out like midway through the first quarter that we need to pick it up,” said Robinson, who missed last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. “We started off the first half of the season real sluggish. After the break, we came back with the mentality that we have to lock in and stay focused.”
McPhaul echoed both Robinson and Osueke.
“We just gotta stick together and play as a team,” said McPhaul. “We started off flat. We overcame that in the second half. Every game, we may have a different leading scorer. We all can score the ball. That’s the good thing about our team. Numbers don’t really matter. As long as we get the win.”
The Burrs finish the regular season at home against undefeated Archbishop Wood (Feb. 4) and Archbishop Ryan (Feb. 7). The Lions travel to Bonner-Prendergast (Feb. 4) and Wood (Feb. 6). Another team fighting to avoid fifth place is Archbishop Carroll. The 6-5 Patriots host Neumann-Goretti on Feb. 4.