By: John Knebels
Photos: James Williamson
PHILADELPHIA – Winless teams are not supposed to defeat defending champions.
Apparently, Bonner-Prendergast’s girls’ basketball team didn’t read the memo.
Behind 32 minutes of non-stop hustle and incredible marksmanship from the foul line, the Pandas stunned visiting West Catholic yesterday afternoon, 69-65, in a Philadelphia Catholic League Red Division clash that may ultimately affect the PCL final in March since only two teams will vie for the title.
“This win today really captured what the Catholic League is all about,” said senior Alexis Eagan. “You never know what can happen. Everyone on our team today played an important part and never gave up. This win came at a really good time for us because it showed that we can compete in this league and win games against great competition.”
During a season-opening five-game losing streak, the Pandas had lost by an average of 22 points. A two-week quarantine and a flurry of injuries helped explain their struggles, but it supplied little if any comfort to B-P’s players and coaches.
Bonner-Prendergast coach Tom Stewart recognized that the Pandas had “yet to put together four quarters,” so to him, beating any opponent wasn’t far-fetched by any means. It would, however, take a team-wide commitment from the opening tap to the final horn.
Against the defending champion and previously undefeated Lady Burrs, the Pandas provided such an effort. Lo and behold, the losing streak was over.
“It has to be one of the top 10 wins since I’ve been at Prendie,” said Stewart, who has been at the helm for 28 years.“It was a gutty performance. West is a quality team with some great players, so it was even more satisfying.”
After trailing by 12-11 after one quarter, the Pandas outscored the Lady Burrs by 17-10 in the second and 22-19 in the third. Although West Catholic’s offense got hot in the fourth, a 24-19 advantage wasn’t quite enough.
Bridie McCann (#5) notched a career-high 25 points in the Pandas win over the Lady Burrs - PSD File Photo by James Williamson
The Burrs’ strategy of putting the Pandas on the foul line made sense, but Eagan (6 for 6 in the fourth; 10 for 10 in the game; 14 points overall) and junior Bridie McCann (9 for 10 in the fourth; 10 for 11 in the game) ignored the mounting pressure by burying a combined 15 out of 16 free throws over the final eight minutes and a surreal 20 of 21 altogether.
“Despite our losses, we kept a positive mindset, and that’s what got us through this tough game,” said McCann, who finished a career-high 25 points. “We came together and left everything out on that court.
“It came down to our foul shots, and that’s something we work on every day, so it was really great to see something we focus on most pay off. Foul shooting is all mental. It’s important to go through the same motions every time you practice them. It’s underrated how important they really are.”
McCann said she sensed her teammates were ready to open some eyes.
“The energy within our team today was great,” she said. “In warm-ups, on the bench, on the court, and in the locker room. It’s the little things that will get you through games like this. It’s important for us to keep going up from here.”
Senior Reagan Dolan scored six of her 12 points in the third first quarter and added six rebounds.
“Today’s win was truly an amazing wake-up call for my coaches, teammates and me in the best way possible,” said Dolan. “We were finally able to see the way the Pandas truly can play as a team when all of our hard work and determination comes together as one.
“I think this win is a great boost to our confidence and is definitely the beginning of a great path for the second half of our season.”
Teammate Eagan figures the Pandas won’t be sneaking up on anyone anymore.
“I think that other teams do look past our team because of our scores in other games,” said Eagan. “I think that other teams think that we aren’t that good, but that isn’t the case. We always will put up a good fight against our opponents, no matter who it is. I also think that since we are not that big and do not have a ‘post player,’ other teams think that they will just beat us on the glass and down low.”
The Pandas also received major contributions from junior Meg Kilroy (five points, five rebounds, strong defense) and junior Aniyah Jackson, who scored 13 points before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
Enter freshman Riley Donohue, who more than held her own against the ultra-athletic Lady Burrs.
“She hasn’t played a lot this year, but she did the job well in our 3-2 zone,” said Stewart. “She’s had to learn so much in a short amount of time. She had no turnovers versus a lot of pressure. She might have been nervous, but it didn’t show.”
West Catholic, meanwhile, was coming off a war-like 63-62 win over visiting Cardinal O’Hara 24 hours earlier. At 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the league, the Lady Burrs appeared to have found their rhythm after two subpar performances.
If fatigue entered figured into the equation, West Catholic coach Beulah Osueke was not interested in excuses, choosing instead to extol the Pandas.
“Bonner-Prendergast demonstrated a winning mindset from tip to the final buzzer,” said Oseuke. “Hats off to Coach Stewart and his team for playing with heart and making the most out of a very trying season.”
(Contact John Knebels at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)