Prior to the season, the Cardinal O’Hara girls had one goal in mind: getting back to the state championship and closing out the year atop the 6A State Playoffs. On Saturday, they looked like a team on a mission to get that done.
The road to Hershey brought them to Spring-Ford High School where they would face the fifth seed out of District 1, the North Penn Lady Knights. It was a familiar scene for the girls, they had played three state playoff games at Spring-Ford last season and beaten North Penn in the semifinals of the (at the time) 4A State Playoffs. That would be their last win of the season as they would fall short against Cumberland Valley in the state championship.
Now on a mission to get back to the GIANT Center, the Cardinal O’Hara girls came to play. With the game tied 5-5 midway through the first quarter, Mackenzie Gardler fought through contact to get a lay-up and the foul to prompt an 11-2 run to close out the first quarter. The Lady Knights would never get closer than four again.
The second quarter belonged to Maura Hendrixson as she scored eight points and threatened to put the game out of reach early. However, North Penn guard Irisa Ye battled her way to the basket a few times to keep the Lady Knights within striking distance heading into the half.
Both teams stepped it up defensively in the third quarter with a few breakdowns by the Lady Knights allowing O’Hara to push the lead to eleven entering the fourth quarter. Jess Huber and Ye would put together a 7-0 run midway through the fourth to close the gap to five. The Lions were looking for answers. The answer came in the form of the Villanova commit Mackenzie Gardler.
Her relentless attack of the basket was on full display as she scored nine straight points for O’Hara. Huber and Ye would keep the Lady Knights close, but ultimately Cardinal O’Hara would regain control and close out the game with timely free throw shooting from Hannah Nihill (10 points), Molly Paolino (7 points), and Mary Sheehan (10 points).
In what many would consider a true team effort, Gardler stood out in the fourth quarter and carried the Lions while they seemed most vulnerable to the Lady Knights. However, she didn’t see it that way in the postgame.
“It was the flow of the game,” Gardler said of her success late in the game, “they were doubling and leaving some gaps which allowed me to be aggressive and get to the basket.”
Gardler and Hendrixson both led the team in scoring with 12 apiece. Hendrixson also had a game-high eight rebounds in the victory. She saw the team’s defense as the big difference in keeping them in the lead despite their struggles at times in the second half.
“We didn’t panic [during North Penn’s run], we kept our cool and just played solid defense,” Hendrixson explained, “We were already winning so we just needed to get some big stops defensively.”
As for North Penn, this concludes another good year for the Lady Knights. For the second straight season, they came painfully close to the Suburban One League Championship and have fallen to Cardinal O’Hara in the state playoffs. Star Irisa Ye and sharpshooter Jess Huber completed their high school careers with stellar games, finishing with 15 points and 12 points, respectively.
Cardinal O’Hara now sits one win away from returning to the state championship, but a Boyertown team that has won 17 of its last 19 games still stands in their way. One of the only two teams that Boyertown has lost to in that span? North Penn. What is that worth to the Lions? Not much. After watching Boyertown’s game earlier in the afternoon, the girls seemed impressed by the Lady Bears, but ready to face the challenge.
Does the goal of winning states that Mackenzie Gardler talked about in November still reverberate as the one thing driving this team?
“We’re taking it one game at a time.”
A smart thing to do with a huge match-up against Boyertown looming on Monday night. For whoever wins that one will be afforded a chance as sweet as a Hershey’s chocolate bar, a chance to play for Pennsylvania’s 6A State Championship.
(Photo Credit: Wave Lane)