The number 3 seed, Cardinal O’Hara Lions, managed a close 35-30 victory against the number 1 seed, Archbishop Wood Vikings, in the Philadelphia Catholic League Girls’ Basketball Finals at the Palestra on Feb. 27.
Senior Hannah Nihill was an instrumental part of the Lions’ victory, leading all scorers with 13 points. Ten of her points came in the game’s first half.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be a one person show and I knew I wasn’t going to be the only one scoring. I had faith in my teammates and I knew that everyone had to contribute for this win and they did. They all stepped up, they all contributed to this win and it’s just an unbelievable feeling,” Nihill said after the game on Feb. 27.
In a slow paced first quarter, both teams got off to a sloppy start offensively.
“In the beginning, [I was] super nervous just because it’s your first time playing here, you know, in that spotlight. The first shots are always pretty bad. But when we came in at halftime, we said, ‘ok, you know, we have a lead. Let’s play like we have a lead.’ We came out [and] our defense played a little looser,” Cardinal O’Hara senior Mary Sheehan said after the game on Feb. 27.
However, O’Hara scored first at the 5:24 mark in the first quarter when junior Maura Hendrixson made a three-point shot. On the next Lions’ possession, Nihill cashed in on a deep three-pointer of her own, giving O’Hara a 6-0 lead.
Senior Cassie Sebold was the first Viking to get on the board, and she did so after being fouled by Hendrixson on a layup attempt at the 3:09 clip in the first quarter. Sebold made both of her free throws reducing O’Hara’s lead to 6-2.
A little over a minute later, Nihill pulled up and drained a jumper from a foot outside the free throw line giving O’Hara an 8-2 lead.
Wood was able to get on the board one more time before the second quarter, thanks to a layup from junior Katie May, making the score 8-4. May’s layup in the closing seconds of the quarter sparked a run for the Vikings.
Senior Meg Neher scored on a put back in the second quarter’s opening minute to cut the Viking’s lead to 8-6. Cassie Sebold then made a layup through contact and received the foul call to earn a free shot from the charity stripe. Sebold sank the free throw and gave the Vikings a 9-8 advantage.
Senior Lauren Leicht made a corner jumper to put O’Hara back ahead 10-9, but Neher answered with a layup, making the score 11-10 in favor of Wood.
In response to Neher’s layup, the Lions went on an 9-0 run initiated by Nihill’s three-point jump shot on a second chance opportunity.
On the defensive end, Mary Sheehan blocked a shot, which was recovered by one of her teammates. Sheehan ran the floor, received an entry pass in the paint, and drew a foul call on a layup. She connected on her extra point attempt from the charity stripe, giving the Lions a 15-11 lead.
Junior Mackenzie Gardler cashed in the final basket of the 9-0 run. She drained a three to give O’Hara an 18-11 lead with 3:20 remaining in the second quarter.
Just when it appeared O’Hara was ready to run away with it, Wood went on a 7-2 run in the final three minutes of the half. The teams entered halftime with the Lions ahead 20-18.
The third quarter was another low scoring affair, with O’Hara outscoring Wood 7-4. Hendrixson knocked down a big three-pointer for the Lions with just seven seconds to go in the third.
“Hendrixson made a huge three at the end of the quarter to keep us with the lead. That was a huge three because we didn’t want to go into the fourth quarter trailing them,” Cardinal O’Hara head coach Linus McGinty said during a post-game interview.
Despite the magnitude of Hendrixson’s three, the Vikings were not yet done for. Both teams continued to struggle offensively in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter until junior Bridget Arcidiacono made a three-point basket to cut the Vikings’ lead to 27-25 with 4:59 left to play.
After an unsuccessful offensive possession by O’Hara, Katie May drove to the basket and tied the game 27-27 with a layup at the 3:40 clip in the fourth quarter. The momentum of the game seemed to be swinging in favor of the Vikings.
O’Hara needed a big shot, and they got it from one of their more unsung characters. With 2:52 remaining in the game, Leicht, who was left open three feet behind the free throw line, swished a jump shot to put the Lions back ahead 29-27.
“Some games she plays five minutes, some games she doesn’t play at all. But she’s got a heart as big as any kid. She’ll always shoot the ball. I mean she’s huge,” coach McGinty said.
Leicht’s shot seemed to take the pressure off of her O’Hara teammates.
“They finally tied it up and you could almost feel us get a little tight. You could feel the air being sucked out. When Lauren hit that shot, it just really gave us new life. We felt good, we felt real good,” Sheehan said.
Still trailing by the final minute, the Vikings began to play the foul game. Nihill was fouled with 47.5 seconds left and the Lions up 30-29. She made her first, but missed her second, leaving the door open for the Vikings.
Less than five seconds later, Neher was fouled and went to the line for the Vikings. Shooting a one-and-one, Neher missed her first attempt, but got her own rebound and kicked it to Sebold.
Sebold drove to the basket and put up a layup attempt that narrowly missed, but she also drew contact and went to the free throw line with just 29.7 seconds to go. She missed her first shot from the foul line, but made her second to cut O’Hara’s lead to 31-30.
During O’Hara’s inbounds play an offensive foul was called, giving the ball back to Wood with no time having run off the clock. However, Wood gave the ball right back after a Katie May travel.
Nihill was fouled once again by the Vikings, and she went to the line with a chance to redeem her free throw struggles from earlier in the quarter.
“All I think about is, two days ago at practice when, after the Neumann-Goretti game ‘I’m not leaving this foul line until I make 20 in a row.’ It took me ten or fifteen minutes, but I made sure I did it. When I was up at that foul line, I just thought about me shooting 20 foul shots in a row at O’Hara and I just said to myself ‘these are in, I’ve got this. This is our game, our year,’” Nihill said.
She made both of her free throws, extending the Lions leas to 33-30 with just 25.9 seconds left. Sebold air balled a three on the next Vikings possession, and Hendrixson was fouled with 10 seconds remaining. Hendrixson stepped to the line and made both of her freebies, putting the game out of reach for the Vikings.
“When Maura hit that shot to put us up four, that first foul shot, that was when you felt the weight go. We actually did it,” Sheehan said.
Sebold threw up a prayer as the clock expired, but it fell short, and the Lions came away with a 35-30 victory.
“It feels amazing. It is honestly an indescribable feeling. This is the best way to see all your hard work pay off. It’s just incredible, and I’m so happy to share it with my team,” Nihill said.
(Photo Credit: Wave Lane)