PHILADELPHIA >> The way Archbishop Wood’s offense is set up, one player isn’t taking most of the shots or scoring a high percentage of points.
That said, junior Katie May might be the Vikings most pivotal player. A 6-foot junior, the Northeastern commit can score from outside and in the post and her passing often leads to so many of Wood’s textbook backdoor cut layups. It’s tough to slow down Wood, but the best way to do it is to keep the ball out of May’s hands.
Monday night at the Palestra, the Lions were determined to make sure May didn’t beat them again. Led by Molly Paolino’s stout defense, a deliberate offense and some key late foul shots, O’Hara won the title it’s been chasing the last few years, topping Wood 35-30 to win the Philadelphia Catholic League title.
“Taking her out of the game was a big part of it because she’s such a good player and I think we did a good job with it tonight,” Paolino said. “We wanted to take her and her sister (Shannon) out of it, deny them and stop them from getting second shot chances or let them get an easy shot off.”
Paolino, also a junior, drew the task of hounding May and made it her goal to deny the Wood forward as much as possible. While Paolino didn’t have a point, she helped hold May to six points on 3-of-7 shooting and prevented the forward from getting open with any kind of regularity.
It was like O’Hara (20-5) was defending a step ahead of the game by focusing in on May. If she didn’t have the ball, then she couldn’t pass it to cutters for layups.
“They were definitely really physical with me, which was their game plan,” May said. “They face-guarded me the whole time, it was a little frustrating but I had to try and push through for my teammates.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL FINAL: Cardinal O’Hara 35, Archbishop Wood 30
Lions are PCL champions. Quite the game pic.twitter.com/VjN8QVu9ip
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 28, 2017
Cassie Sebold led Wood (18-7) with eight points but the Vikings were playing from behind most of the night. Maura Hendrixson and Hannah Nihill hit back-to-back 3-pointers for O’Hara before Shannon May’s free throws finally got Wood on the board.
Wood took a 9-8 lead on a three-point play by Sebold, but O’Hara regained its advantage shortly after, then built its lead on the back of a Nihill 3-pointer, bucket by Mary Sheehan and a wing 3-pointer by Kenzie Gardler.
Sebold scored with 30 seconds left in the half to make it 20-18 in favor of O’Hara, but her layup at the buzzer rolled off the back of the rim, leaving Wood down at the half. It wasn’t the first time that would happen to the Vikings.
“They lay-ups rimming out, we were right there,” Sebold said. “We played hard but in the end it wasn’t enough.”
Sebold said the Lions were much more patient on offense than in the team’s first meeting, a 34-20 Wood win back on Jan. 20. In that game, Nihill found limited passing lanes once she got into the paint, but on Monday, the Drexel-bound senior was able to find her teammates.
Nihill said she noticed Wood’s defenders wanted to collapse in and try for a jump ball or outright steal so any time a defender made a step toward the ball, it meant someone else was open.
“We made the perfect adjustments, our coaches did a great job preparing us for this game,” Nihill said. “We watched the film of the first time, we nitpicked, we paused it and made sure we found every single flaw that gave them an advantage in that game and made sure it didn’t happen tonight.”
“The little things added up tonight,” Paolino said. “Getting rebounds, Mary did an awesome job on the boards. Lauren Leicht was great and everyone played team basketball.”
Hendrixson, who has also committed to Drexel, buried a huge 3-point shot with 11.4 left in the third quarter, putting O’Hara up 27-22 going into the final frame. It just seemed like Wood couldn’t get a break to go its way until with five minutes remaining, Katie May found Bridget Arcicidacono for three.
Paolino, who had scrapped and battled all game, was saddled with four fouls in the final frame, finally allowing May a little bit of breathing room. Taking advantage of it, the Northeastern commit tied the game 27-27 with 3:40 to play.
Lauren Leicht, who came off the bench to spell Paolino, hit two big shots for O’Hara, including a short jumper that put the Lions up 29-27 with 2:57 left. On the following possession, May hit a back-cutting Arcidiacono for what looked like the tying score.
Then the ball spun out and off the rim, where Sheehan snared it.
“I definitely don’t think it was our best night,” May said. “But that’s a lot of credit to O’Hara because they played a great game and a lot of shots didn’t fall our way tonight. They took their time and created better shots for themselves.”
With 25.9 left, Nihill was fouled on purpose and sank two big foul shots to put the Lions up 33-30. That meant Wood had to come down and most likely shoot a 3-pointer, so it changed the way O’Hara was going to defend.
“Foul shots win games,” Nihill said. “We knew if I made those, it was a game-changer and them taking 3s, we had to get over screens, we had to talk. We’d rather force them to the rim and not foul then let them shoot a 3.”
While Wood had to leave the loser, it was still the fourth straight PCL final appearance for its senior class, something Sebold wasn’t taking for granted.
“It’s such a privledge to play here, it’s always crazy and the atmosphere is insance,” Sebold, who is off to Chestnut Hill, said. “It’s incredible to have played here four years in a row and I’m thankful for that and all my teammates that helped me get here.”
Cardinal O’Hara 35, Archbishop Wood 30
Cardinal O’Hara 812 7 8 – 35
Archbishop Wood 4 14 4 8 – 30
Cardinal O’Hara (35): Hannah Nihill 4 3-6 13, Maura Hendrixson 2 4-4 10, Lauren Leicht 2 0-1 4, Mary Sheehan 2 0-1 4, Kenzie Gardler 1 1-2 4. Nonscoring: Molly Paolino, Bridget Hoy. Totals: 11 8-14 35.
Archbishop Wood (30): Cassie Sebold 3 2-3 8, Katie May 3 0-0 6, Bridget Arcidiacono 2 0-0 5, Meg Neher 2 0-1 4, Erin Morgan 1 0-0 3, Nikki Greenberg 1 0-0 2, Shannon May 0 2-2 2. Nonscoring: Karly Brown, Ryleigh Parsons. Totals: 12 4-6 30.
3-pointers: CO – Nihill 2, Hendrixson 2, Gardler; Arcidiacono.
Top Photo: Cardinal O’Hara players celebrate their 35-30 victory over Archbishop Wood to win the Philadelphia Catholic League title at the Palestra in Philadelphia on Monday, Feb. 27, 2017. (Pete Bannan/Digital First Media)