By: Rich Flanagan (@richflanagan33)
Photos: Zamani Feelings (@Zam919)
Videos: Angelise Stuhl (@ngelise_s)
PHILADELPHIA –Renie Shields has been on the sideline at the Palestra for three Philadelphia Catholic League titles, all as an assistant under Chuck Creighton. She took over as head coach of Archbishop Carroll in 2015 and continued much of the success Creighton, who also led the Patriots to the PIAA Class 4A title four years prior, had created during his tenure.
In her first three seasons at the helm, the Patriots advanced to the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals but came up short, including last year’s heartbreaking one-point loss to Neumann-Goretti. Despite those setbacks, Shields put her coaching prowess on display by guiding to her team to the PIAA 5A quarterfinals two years ago followed up a semifinal appearance last season. Still, her first Philadelphia Catholic League title as a head coach had eluded her, but the consecutive losses in the semifinals coupled with her team’s ability to regroup and come together were the driving force on Monday night.
2019 PCL Championship Photo Gallery by Zamani Feelings
Grace O’Neill converted the go-ahead basket with 1:28 remaining and Erin Sweeney had 18 points and eight rebounds as Archbishop Carroll held off Archbishop Wood in overtime, 48-42 to claim its first Philadelphia Catholic League championship since 2012.
It was a lasting moment for Shields and she attributes the run to the state semifinals as the key factor to this victory.
“I think the bond started at the end of last season,” Shields said. “We had about a month off then it started all over again. I believe I have a good feel for what they have to do to be really good at something and they really bought in. They wrote down what they wanted to do and I said, ‘Well, here’s what it’s going to take.’ Then followed through with the plan very well.”
O’Neill drove past two defenders and scored a layup to put the Patriots, who secured their 13th straight win, in front 44-42. The freshman point guard and Second Team All-Catholic scored eight of her 13 points in the second half and overtime. Her head fake allowed her to drive by her defender and her momentum carried her past the second for the game-winning basket.
The humble freshman made a play very few could’ve at that moment in the game but was fixated on two free throws she had missed, including one that would have given Archbishop Carroll (19-5) a one-point advantage with 8.3 seconds remaining in regulation.
“It was a total team effort,” O’Neill said. “I missed foul shots and Erin made foul shots. Harlem [Jennings] had a bunch of great drives. It was a team effort and I happened to make a shot at a good time.”
The Vikings looked to First Team All-Catholic Kaitlyn Orihel to deliver as she had many times over the course of the season, including a 31-point performance in the Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals against the Saints. While she had battled foul trouble all night, she led Archbishop Wood with 15 points including the game-tying layup in regulation at 39-39.
After O’Neill’s bucket, Orihel tried to drive baseline but was cut off by the freshman and turned the ball over. A few seconds later, she fouled out.
Sweeney was at her best in the extra period. After Lindsay Tretter hit the second of her two three-pointers which gave the Vikings (14-11) a three-point lead to begin overtime, the First Team All-Catholic honoree hit a beautiful stepback triple to tie the game at the 2:41 mark. Following O’Neill’s clutch bucket, Sweeney went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line to ice the game.
Among a team full of capable scorers who weren’t afraid of the moment, Sweeney stood above the rest and delivered when her team needed her. She’s been the Patriots’ leader all season and carried them to victory late.
“I knew we would need shots so I couldn’t be afraid to take them,” Sweeney said. “If they were fouling, I knew I couldn’t be afraid to get the ball, take foul shots and make them.”
Jennings asserted herself early with five of her 15 points in the first quarter. The Second Team All-Catholic selection who transferred over from Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic two years ago added six boards and four steals for the game. One of those steals turned into points as Archbishop Carroll’s full-court trap gave the Vikings fits all night. Jennings intercepted a crosscourt pass then took it the other way to put the Patriots in front by three at the 3:04 mark of the third quarter.
Jennings was not surprised by the plays her team made late in regulation and overtime, particularly by Sweeney and O’Neill.
“Practicing with our coaches in the final seconds really helped,” Jennings said. “We went through five, 10 and 20 seconds left on the clock. We went over a lot of plays then ran one perfectly and we got fouled which helped out. In overtime, we knew what plays we had to run and we got shots off which was great.”
Even with losing its accomplished 2018 class in Wynter Bess, Kate Masciantonio, Kaitlyn Roccio, Alli Dreger and Molly Masciantonio, who was an 1,000-point scorer and now plays at Holy Family, the Patriots graced the Palestra court with confidence en route to another Catholic League title.
Shields had played her fair share of games at the Palestra while at Saint Joseph’s University, where she was a two-time team captain and 1981 Big 5 MVP after averaging 10.8 points per game and tallying a then-Hawks single-season record 157 assists.
This Philadelphia Catholic League title was her first at the helm of Archbishop Carroll and she’s proud of how her girls persevered in a raucous environment with everything on the line.
“Throughout the year, we’ve come across difficult situations but we work on it each day,” Shields said. “I believe we challenge them as much as we can so that when they get into situations like that they can just respond. What we do in games isn’t something they don’t see in practice.”