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Resilient O’Hara claims third league crown in four seasons

ASTON >> The Cardinal O’Hara field hockey players took turns looking to the sideline as senior defender Liz Tosto was being treated for a leg injury during the first half of Wednesday night’s Catholic League championship game with Archbishop Carroll at Neumann University.

“We knew we’d need the others to really help out,” Lions head coach Marie Murphy said. “We’ve lost people to injuries during the second half of the season, but we’ve regrouped before and we expected to be able to regroup tonight.”

Cardinal O'Hara's Emily Quintus, 15, hoists Makayla Gallen on her shoulders to celebrate the Lions' Catholic League title, won 1-0 over Archbishop Carroll Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Cardinal O’Hara’s Emily Quintus, 15, hoists Makayla Gallen on her shoulders to celebrate the Lions’ Catholic League title, won 1-0 over Archbishop Carroll Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

With Tosto standing with crutches and watching during the second half, senior Hannah Nihill scored for O’Hara. Senior goalie Jen Ahearn turned away the six shots that found their way to goal after the break, and senior midfielders Makayla Gallen, Annemarie Banes and Emily Quintas did all they could to disrupt the Carroll attack.

When Banes pushed the ball out of the circle on the Pats’ final penalty corner, which wasn’t completed until the time for the second half had run out, O’Hara had earned a 1-0 decision and claimed its third Catholic League hockey championship in four seasons.

The Lions (19-1) will play for the PIAA District 12 Class 3A title Saturday, then they begin state tournament competition Tuesday. Carroll (12-4), the only team to beat O’Hara this season, saw its dreams of making states vanish with the loss.

Bonner & Prendergast, which shared first place with Carroll and O’Hara — beating the Patriots and losing to the Lions — will be District 12’s Class 2A representative in the state tournament.

“Seeing Makayla Gallen holding the (Catholic League) plaque for the third time in four years is really special,” Murphy said. “And Jen Ahearn, as quiet as she can be, was just perfect under pressure tonight.

“This is very exciting to see them come back and do this in this game.”

Two weeks ago, Carroll came to O’Hara and spoiled the Lions’ perfect record by rolling to a 3-0 victory. The Pats had the better of the play in the first half Wednesday, but Ahearn came up with a big save, and the game was scoreless at halftime.

An O’Hara penalty corner ended up with Nihill getting to the ball during a scramble in front of Carroll goalie Kimmy McGroary and pushing it to the back of the cage.

Cardinal O'Hara's Hannah Nihill, left, tries to get around Archbishop Carroll's Carly Bateman. Nihill scored the only goal in the Lions' 1-0 win Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

Cardinal O’Hara’s Hannah Nihill, left, tries to get around Archbishop Carroll’s Carly Bateman. Nihill scored the only goal in the Lions’ 1-0 win Wednesday. (Digital First Media/Anne Neborak)

“So many people touched the ball on that play,” said Nihill, who has a school-record 102 career goals. “It was just my job to finish it.

“Losing (Tosto) really hurt, but we have faith in our subs. Everybody just had to keep together and get this for” Tosto.

Ellie Kent and Maddie Suter made some big defensive plays to keep Carroll close, and Sam Swart provided the offensive threat the Pats needed. To counter them, Gallen just seemed to be everywhere stopping the ball and clearing it or putting sharp passes on teammates’ sticks.

“Without (Tosto) I had to get back and Emily Quintus has defensive experience and she was getting back,” Gallen said. “We kept telling Erin (Grady) she could do it when she had to come in.

“We’ve won district games before, and we played a really tough schedule to get us ready for states. Now we’re just going to have to take it one game at a time and see how far we can go.”

Ahearn has come a long way in goal for the Lions, and was happy to push aside the disappointing result of the regular-season loss to Carroll.

“We adjusted where we had to, and everyone just did their jobs,” she said. “We certainly weren’t at our best the last time we played Carroll.”

Nihill, a Drexel recruit and 2016 Daily Times Girls Basketball Player of the Year, played for a state championship in the last game of her junior basketball season. She also knows O’Hara’s history of not being able to go far very far in state field hockey play.

She accepted congratulations from assistant basketball coach Matt Githens Wednesday night then had something to tell him.

“Basketball practice starts (Nov. 18), but I might have to be a day late starting this year because the (field hockey) state final is (Nov. 19),” Nihill said.

Githens just smiled.

“She can have two days off if they make it to the finals,” Githens said. “But I know she won’t do that.”

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