By: John Knebels
Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert & John Knebels
PHILADELPHIA – The celebratory reaction of winning a regular-season game was more effusive than usual.
When taking into account the magnitude of the victory and considering whom they had just toppled, however, Cardinal O’Hara was justifiably elated to have dislodged visiting Archbishop Wood, 44-38, in a key Red Division battle February 16.
“Since I’ve been here, we have only beaten them once,” said O’Hara junior forward Maggie Doogan. “Getting them back today was an amazing feeling.”
Precisely seven nights earlier, O’Hara had surrendered a splendid opportunity against the same Archbishop Wood team. Leading throughout, the Lions fell apart in the fourth quarter and dropped a 43-40 decision.
That loss was O’Hara’s second, and because the Catholic League is allowing only two teams to fight for a championship, another division defeat would have basically eliminated the Lions from a realistic chance of facing either Wood, Archbishop Carroll, or defending champion West Catholic in the final scheduled sometime in mid-March at a venue still to be determined.
Speaking of the PCL championship, league officials have confirmed that the Palestra will definitely not house the league final, and because of cost concerns, the championship almost certainly will not take place at a local college, more likely a Catholic high school.
Now the Lions are 3-2 and one game behind both Wood (4-1) and Archbishop Carroll (4-1). Defending champ West Catholic is 1-0.
“Our defense was the key for the whole game,” said Doogan. “We knew going in that they were amazing shooters, and we had to be disciplined.”
While Doogan’s defense was substantial – she notched three of her four blocks and gobbled up five of her 10 rebounds in the first half – her offense proved to be the difference.
Aided by perfect six-for-six shooting from the foul line (the team hit 9 of 10), Doogan finished with a career-high 20 points. She scored six straight in the first quarter to give the Lions an 8-3 edge, giving the pockets of socially distanced and masked fans in the stands – responsibly within the allowance as mandated by Delaware County officials – an early charge.
After scoring two points in the second, Doogan engineered a superb third quarter. Leading by 19-16 at halftime, Doogan tallied six early points as part of a 12-0 run that saw O’Hara seize a comfortable 31-16 lead. Wood was held scoreless for the first five minutes of the third quarter.
“They’re a high-octane offensive team, and we knew what we had to do to take it away,” said O’Hara coach Chrissie Doogan. “I thought our help-defense was there early. Maggie had like three or four blocks in the first quarter, and we just kind of fed off it. If we play with energy, we have a pretty good defensive team.”
Long-distance accuracy by junior all-state guard Sydni Scott (three three-pointers, nine points, five rebounds, three assists) and senior Amaris Baker (two three-pointers, 10 points, five rebounds, four assists) frustrated the Vikings, whose normally competent shooting went AWOL in the second half (one three-pointer).
“My coach was happy that I took my threes at the right time, because that’s when the team needed them the most,” said Scott. “After defeating that team, it feels like we can match up with anyone we play, as long as we have that mindset that we are going to win. I feel like we are a great team.”
Not surprisingly, a prideful Wood refused to go away. Largely behind junior Ryanne Allen (12 points), junior Bri Bowen (10 rebounds, four points, three steals), and senior Kaitlyn Orihel (14 points; 10 in the fourth quarter), the Vikings climbed to within 38-32 inside the final two minutes.
Unlike in the game one week earlier, the Lions maintained their composure as Doogan connected on four free throws and senior Siobhan Boylan (seven points, five assists) clinched the triumph with two more.
“During timeouts, we were telling the girls, ‘It’s not last week. It’s a new game. We’re going to close this one out,’” said Coach Doogan. “Early in the fourth, we played at their pace. We got rushed and turned the ball over. Down the stretch, we took a deep breath.”
Doogan the coach/mom was asked to assess Doogan the player/daughter’s dominant performance.
“She stays and shoots in the gym every day, and that’s starting to pay off,” she said. “Nobody wanted to win this as much as she did. She felt like she didn’t have a good game (the previous) Tuesday night, and this was a chance for a little redemption.”
Victory in hand, Coach Doogan had to later reach for her wallet.
“I owe her ice cream at (neighborhood restaurant) Freddy’s now because it’s Fat Tuesday, and I told her if we win, we can stop for ice cream,” said Doogan. “She’ll be happy.”
Doogan the player – and her teammates as well – had earned as much ice cream as they desired.
Underclassmen Turning Heads at Conwell-Egan
Though already successful against most several Catholic League Blue Division foes, Conwell-Egan had a rare chance to measure itself against defending champion West Catholic on Valentine’s Day.
The results weren’t befitting of roses and candy, but love was certainly in the air.
Behind a flock of undaunted freshmen, the Eagles took an early lead and held it until the third quarter, but they couldn’t overcome the talented and hungry Burrs, who were playing their first game of the season. C-E’s 70-53 loss was closer than the score would indicate.
“Too many costly turnovers, and we got crushed on the boards,” said Conwell-Egan coach Chris Brennan. “We had a really good shot but ran out of gas.”
Brennan and his players relished the experience.
“We talked about always taking steps forward no matter who the opponent,” said Brennan. “We have the utmost respect for the West program.”
A quad of freshmen belied their youth. Brooke McFadden hit four threes and finished with a career-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds. Classmate Lola Ibarrondo collected 12 points and nine boards while being matched up defensively against senior first-team All-Catholic Destiney McPhaul. Molly Milewski (seven rebounds, four assists) and Emma Candy (five rebounds) also impressed; sophomore Kyliyah Carmichael held her own against West senior Ciani Montgomery.
“The team as a whole really is just so competitive,” said Brennan. “In practices, scrimmages and games, they just bring high effort and energy every day.”
In a victory over Little Flower two days later, Ibarrondo (15 points, amazing 10 steals), Carmichael (12 points; 5-for-7 shooting; four rebounds), and sophomore Katey Brennan (seven points and three offensive rebounds) led the way.
The Eagles’ two lone seniors are disappointed they won’t be around to see what fortunes await CE’s youngsters.
“We are playing well,” said Gia Brennan. “This team still has so much time and experience to grow and become so much better for our future games and for the upcoming years.”
Added classmate Izzy Foy: “This season is definitely a big step forward for us. As a team we are so connected, and the underclassmen have blended really well. I think the intensity starts in practice and translates really well in the games.”
Bambies Remain Undefeated
The Blue Division’s top team, St. Hubert, is a perfect 5-0, with one of those wins coming over Conwell-Egan in both teams’ season openers. On February 12, the Bambies upended northeast neighborhood rival Archbishop Ryan, 49-28.
Specifically lauding the efforts of senior Emma McNamee, senior Payton Pugh, and junior Gianna Grassifulli, Hubert coachDave Schafer said the Bambies’ first-half defense was their best of the season.
“We came to play,” said McNamee. “There is definitely still a real rivalry against Ryan. Hubert’s hasn’t beat Ryan in a very long time, so we were ready to go out and play our hardest.”
Last year, Ryan played in the Red Division before being moved to the Blue and replaced with Lansdale Catholic.
“It also made us realize that one year, the program will have a chance at moving up into the higher division,” said McNamee. “Every member on this team has worked so hard to build this program, and it is finally starting to show.”
McNamee is more than disappointed that the Blue Division will not qualify for the PCL final. Their only possibility of postseason play relies on defeating Cardinal O’Hara on March 1, with the winner being crowned PIAA Class 5A District 12 champions.
“It is very frustrating because we have worked so hard and have come so far, talent wise, in this short season,” said McNamee “Not even being given a chance is completely unfair.”
“It is a real bummer,” he said. “The kids feel disrespected that it only matters if you are in the Red Division.”
Crusaders Impress in Defeat
Playing in their season opener on February 15, Lansdale Catholic gave West Catholic a major scar. The visiting Crusaders smelled an upset throughout, and when down seven late in the fourth quarter, they scored six straight to cut their deficit to one point.
West Catholic twice missed a chance to increase its lead from the free-throw line, but the Burrs corralled both rebounds and were able to survive a close encounter.
“We started one junior, three sophomores and a freshman,” said Lansdale Catholic coach Eric Gidney. “We believed we could compete with them. They’re the defending PCL champs, and even though we lost by one, we felt it was a statement effort from us.
“Being so young, our inexperience showed with some mental miscues. Once we clean those up and get mentally sharper, I believe we can continue to raise some eyebrows in the PCL.”
Sophomore Gabby Casey (21 points, seven rebounds, six assists, six steals; she scored 20 in a loss to Archbishop Carroll the next night), sophomore Cassidy Saulino (10 points), and freshman Olivia Boccella (10 points) all reached double digits. Plagued by foul trouble, junior Lauren Edwards finished with seven points and five boards.
“It was definitely great for us to prove we can hang with the tougher competition,” said Edwards, an All-Catholic last year. “Being our first game, it was important for us to prove to ourselves how well we do when we play together and how far it can get us.
“Even though we didn’t get the outcome we wanted, we showed our ability to work together under that kind of pressure. It’s always super exciting for us to compete under those circumstances, and our determination to win as a team is what drives us.”
Patriots Continue to Thrive
At 4-1, Archbishop Carroll has continued to improve since a season-opening loss to Archbishop Wood. The Patriots have won four straight – including a 42-40 nailbiter against Cardinal O’Hara – by an average of 17.5 points.
Their latest win – 65-40 at Lansdale Catholic on Tuesday night – was fueled by 11 different scorers. Junior Grace O'Neill scored 16, sophomore Taylor Wilson added 13, and Maggie Grant chipped in with 10 more.
“I thought we played a great team game,” said O’Neill. “Our press really helped us to get momentum early in the game. Overall, I think it was a great win.”
Pandas Still Seeking Success
Bonner-Prendergast is still looking for its first win. Considering how rugged is the competition in the Red, that’s understandable.
“We came into this season already knowing that it was going to be a challenge for us to play these other teams,” said junior Bridie McCann. “Although each of these games have been difficult for us, we come out with a great attitude and good energy.
“We are still working on growing as a team and getting comfortable with each other. In the position that we are in, every practice is important, and every loss is something we have to take in order to develop our game as a team.”
McCann raved about the rest of the Red Division.
“Each team has always had crazy talent throughout the years,” said McCann. “It’s important for us to keep our heads up and just have fun out there, and to just be happy that after all these obstacles, we are able to be on the court again.”
They said it . . .
John W. Hallahan coach Mike Gallagher, on this season flying by way too quickly, and ultimately facing Bishop McDevitt on March 6 in what will be both schools’ final contest: “With each game we play, the reality of this being the last season cements . . . Playing McDevitt at the end, the last game ever for both teams, I’m sure they want to go out on a high note just like us and will hold nothing back because there is no, ‘Oh well, we will get them next year.’”
Bishop McDevitt senior Kate McNally: “Things have definitely been rough especially with the school closing, but we have a strong bond and always look out for each other. Even though we may not be the best team, we are working hard and trying to enjoy the last season in McDevitt history."
Little Flower coach Maureen Buchter, on the never-ending trials caused by the coronavirus: “The weather has caused cancellations and missed opportunities to practice. The rescheduling process has forced games to be played back-to-back for some teams. Another huge challenge is the mandatory quarantine of students through the contact tracing process. As a coaching staff, we continue to encourage the girls to go out and play the game you love.”
Following a closer-than-anticipated 61-60 win over Lansdale Catholic behind senior Ciani Montgomery’s 22 points and four assists, senior Daziy Montgomery-Wilson’s 18 points, and senior Destiney McPhaul’s 18 points, West Catholic coach Beulah Osueke talks about the challenge of defending a title: “Last year, we learned how difficult it is to win a first championship. This year, we are learning how hard it is to try to repeat being on everyone’s radar. We don’t have the experience of being a perennial program, because they know how to come back with a target on their back.”
Neumann-Goretti coach Andrea Peterson, assessing the Lady Saints’ 2-3 start, during which junior Mihjae Hayes has averaged 19.5 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals: “Every game is a battle and you can’t take anyone lightly. Honestly, at this point we just focus on one game at a time. We focus on getting better each day.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
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