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Cardinal O’Hara gets defensive, denies Upper Dublin

PHILADELPHIA >> Their numbers on the offensive statistics sheet weren’t what would attract attention.

Cardinal O’Hara junior Molly Paolino made only two shots while senior Kristen Denoncour didn’t have a field goal.

The two did become the topic of conversation after the District 12 champion Lions rolled to a 53-25 decision over District 1’s No. 9 seed, Upper Dublin, in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament on Herb Magee Court at Philadelphia University Friday night.

“We just played great defense,” O’Hara head coach Linus McGinty said after the Lions (23-5) limited the Cardinals (21-7) to two points in the opening period and seven in the first half in helping him to the 801st victory of his coaching career.

Cardinal O’Hara’s Kenzie Gardler, left, defends a shot by Upper Dublin’s Josie Barrett Friday night. O’Hara turned up the defense in a 53-25 trouncing. (Digital First Media/Bob Raines)

“Every game Molly’s been playing against the best scorer on the other team and shutting them down.”
Paolino, who finished with four points, made four steals. One came in the closing seconds of the first half, and she converted it into a pair of points at the other end of the floor.

“It’s survive and you go on time,” Paolino said. “We knew that team had some big girls inside, so we had to go after them and help Mary (Sheehan) by not letting them get the ball inside.

“(Just before) halftime, I got that steal. We knew we wanted to challenge every pass and deny them as much as we could.”

Denoncour suffered a concussion that had her sidelined when O’Hara earned its Catholic League semifinal playoff victory over Neumann-Goretti at Philadelphia University two weeks ago.

“She went right back at it when she got cleared to practice this week,” Sheehan said. “It was exciting to see her have the chance to play in this game.”

Denoncour attempted one shot and had it knocked away by a defender. She did grab an offensive rebound and twice fed sophomore Kerry Patterson for baskets in earning a pair of assists.

“I know this team can win games whether I play or not,” Denoncour said. “I was so proud of the way they won the Catholic League championship game.

“I know I still have a role to play on this team, and I’m excited about getting the chance to go on the road to states with them.”

O’Hara’s big three of seniors Hannah Nihill and Sheehan and junior Mackenzie Gardler did their share in making the victory possible.

Nihill, who had only four points in the first half after spending time on the bench with two fouls, got seven points in the third period and led all scorers with 15 points. She also grabbed eight rebounds and had three steals and a pair of assists.

Sheehan who got seven points in the opening period, finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two steals, while Gardler garnered eight of her 10 points before halftime and also was a defensive presence.

“It’s just so important when we get the lead like we did,” Sheehan said. “Then they can’t do what they wanted to do to try to stop us.”

Nihill knows that she will be the focus of opposing defenses throughout the playoffs.

“That’s when I have to get the ball to my teammates so they have open shots,” the Drexel commit said. “We just kept working hard in the second half, and it was awesome seeing Kristen (Denoncour) out there. She’s the big person we know can help us.”

Her next chance to do that will be Tuesday night, when O’Hara’s second-round state opponent will be District 3’s fourth-place team, Central York (25-4), which surprised District 1’s third-place finisher Central Bucks West, 42-41.

“No matter who it is we’re playing, we’re at the point where we only can think about this next game and not worry about anything else,” Sheehan said.

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