By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: Kathy Leister & John Knebels
WARMINSTER, PA – An Archbishop Wood vs. Cardinal O’Hara girls’ basketball game rarely results in a Picasso. Definitely more like an Etch A Sketch.
The latest battle between these fierce Red Division rivals took place Feb. 9, and as usual, the final stat sheet showed numerous turnovers, copious fouls, and the officials calling a ridiculous amount of jump balls.
Despite trailing most of the game and having its top scorer and Class 5A Player of the year – senior Kaitlyn Orihel – foul out in a tie game with 1:56 remaining in the fourth quarter after having scored a grand total of four points, Wood found a way down the stretch and held off a disappointed O’Hara, 43-40.
“Everything was not going our way,” said junior Ryanne Allen. “Our shots weren’t falling. We knew that we had to come together and pull off a tough win. We made big plays at the end of the game.”
It was Allen who scored 13 of Wood’s 17 fourth-quarter points, including the Vikings’ final six – all from the foul line – to finish with a game-high 19. Allen also assisted on a pretty basket by senior Noelle Baxter with 1:36 left, putting Wood ahead, 37-35 – the Vikings’ first lead since a 2-0 start.
A strong defensive play by Allen then led to two of her 10 free throws (on 13 attempts) to make it 39-35. With 31.1 seconds left, junior Shannon Morgan orchestrated a major steal, which again led to two more freebies by Allen.
“Everyone has a role on this team,” said Allen. “When their name is called, they know when to step up in big moments. It was definitely a team effort, and I’m very proud of us.”
Baxter only scored four points, but several key rebounds, defensive stops, and hustle plays provided intangibles that ultimately do one thing – they help a team win.
In other words, Baxter was just playing her game.
“I take pride in it,” said Baxter. “I love it. Sometimes it’s not as glamorous, but it feels good.”
A Wood victory seemed unlikely. Foul troubles by Orihel – three by the midway point of the second quarter – kept the star guard from helping the offense. She picked up her fourth foul inside the first minute of the fourth quarter, came back with 4:57 remaining, and then was whistled for the final time three minutes later.
Instead of taking her seat on the bench, Orihel stood for the rest of the game and implored her teammates to find a way to remain undefeated. Mostly thanks to Allen, Baxter, and Morgan, they did precisely that.
“It was definitely super frustrating,” said Orihel, who admitted that being overly aggressive while in foul trouble was one of her “weaknesses” and something she needs to work on. “But being able to see them step up and pull out the win at the end of the day, whether it’s me or them, I don’t care as long we pull out the win.
“After I fouled out, I had to find other ways to contribute, so I was trying my best to be the loudest one on the bench. The energy that we had from the rest of the bench definitely helped us.”
Orihel praised the play of sophomore Kara Meredith, and for good reason. When no one else was able to find a rhythm, Meredith bucketed eight points in the first half, keeping the Vikings within a manageable 22-16 at halftime.
“Kara was carrying us in the first half,” said Orihel. “She works her butt off. She stepped up huge today. It was really exciting to be able to celebrate her.”
Meredith relished her contribution in a game that basically amounts to a playoff game because of the shortened season and the allowance of only two Catholic League playoff finalists in March.
“When there’s not a lot of energy in the game, coming off the bench, I think it’s really important to bring that energy and keep our team going, and I think I was able to do that,” said Meredith. “Our team is really good at coming out in the third quarter. We started playing as a team more. We passed to our open shooters and we had more control of our dribble.”
Senior Amaris Baker scored 11 and senior Siobhan Boylan added eight for O’Hara, which fell to 1-2. With Wood now at 4-0 and Archbishop Carroll at 2-1 – with one of those wins over O’Hara – not to mention defending champion West Catholic frothing at the mouth while waiting to play its first game of the season, the Lions will basically have to run the table to qualify for the PCL postseason.
“It was a tough one,” said O’Hara coach Chrissy Doogan. “Ultimately, they made more plays down the stretch than we did. I was super proud of our effort all night long. I thought we were prepared going into the game. We just have to find away to close out games.”
In other Catholic League action . . .
St. Hubert has dominated the Blue Division. The Bambies are 3-0 after defeating Conwell-Egan, Bishop McDevitt, and Little Flower convincingly. St. Hubert is the only Blue squad with a winning record; because of COVID-19, the other five have combined to play a grand total of seven games.
Hubert coach Dave Schafer appreciates the constant effort.
“Our girls are giving us 100 percent every day in practice and games,” said Schafer. “They are totally focused on elevating the St. Hubert program.”
The starting unit of junior leading scorer Gianna Grassifulli, senior Emma McNamee, senior Sarah Spaeth, senior Payton Pugh, and sophomore Mackenzie McLaughlin have helped allow Schafer to substitute more generously.
The Bambies only wish they could be playing for a Catholic League postseason.
“It is extremely frustrating because we finally have a strong team who communicates well with each other on and off the court but can go no further than our last regular season game,” said McNamee. “I think our team has gone into this season very strong despite not being able to start at the regular time. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum for the rest of the season.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
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