ROYERSFORD >> It wasn’t the ending North Penn had hoped for.
The Knights, specifically their three senior starters, had dreams of reaching Hershey and winning a state title. They just drew the one team they felt that could stand in their way a few rounds too early.
North Penn’s offense wasn’t able to keep up with PCL champion Cardinal O’Hara as the Lions claimed a 51-45 win in their PIAA 6A girls’ quarterfinal game Saturday at Spring-Ford.
“In the beginning of the game, they shot close to 100 percent from the 3-point line,” North Penn guard Sam Carangi said, holding back tears. “At one point, Hannah (Nihill) drove and found someone open on the opposite wing. We would take away everyone on that one side and she would just find some random open person.”
North Penn got off to a slow start, shooting just 2-of-10 from the floor in the first quarter while O’Hara came out firing and connecting. The Lions hit three 3-point shots in the first frame and two more in the first 1:40 of the second as they took a 22-9 lead over the Knights.
Knights senior Jess Huber missed her first five shots and didn’t score until 3:19 remained in the first half. With Huber and guard Sam Carangi well-covered by O’Hara’s defense, Irisia Ye stepped up. It helped that Lions guard Kenzie Gardler picked up her second foul with 6:40 left in the period and sat for more than five minutes.
“They shot close to 50 percent in the first half and we shot close to 30,” Knights coach Maggie deMarteleire said. “I said to the girls I felt like we had way too much respect for them defensively in the first two quarters. When we finally started getting after them, we created some turnovers and started rushing their shots.”
Ye scored seven of North Penn’s 13 in the second and Huber hit two tough shots to cut the lead back to single digits.
“We knew we out-sized them a little,” Ye said. “A key thing was to take advantage of those mismatches. Gardler is one of their key players, so getting her in foul trouble would help us throughout the game. Attacking the basket, she would either foul me or I was going to finish.”
What the Knights didn’t have an answer for was Maura Hendrixson. The O’Hara wing, a Drexel recruit, hit 3-of-5 from distance in the first half for 11 points, while Molly Paolino, and Nihilll also hit treys to build the big lead on North Penn.
The Knights were respecting O’Hara’s drives too much, deMarteleire said.
“I think we got good looks, but they just weren’t falling,” Huber said. “They played pretty good defense but at that point in the game, we just had to finish shots.”
North Penn ended the first half on an 11-6 run, but a hoop by Mary Sheehan with six seconds left gave O’Hara an eight-point edge. Carangi said that surge on defense to end the second half gave the Knights something to hold onto at the half. Adding to that, deMarteleire reminded the players they led O’Hara by eight last year before eventually losing, so she challenged them to do the same thing.
However, the third quarter was much like the first for North Penn, with the Knights shooting just 2-of-9 from the floor and O’Hara keeping Huber and Ye without a point in the frame. Nihill’s free throw handed the Lions an 11-point lead going into the final frame.
North Penn wasn’t going out quietly though and the seniors had one last push in them.
“Sam really came to play, she didn’t score a lot of points, but she made things happen,” deMarteleire said. “She had three blocks in the third that were huge, she distributed the ball, took care of the ball. Jess and Irisa really picked up in the second half.”
A trey by Huber off an inbound pass by Carangi cut O’Hara’s lead to 45-41 with 2:15 left. Things would not come together after that for the Knights, as they only scored four more points the rest of the way and had to contend with Gardler, who scored nine points in the final frame, weaving through defenders to get to the rim, drawing fouls three times.
The senior trio ends their storied North Penn careers with 101 wins, a District I title, three SOL Continental titles and four state playoff appearances. Ye, Huber and Carangi have been such a fixture at North Penn, it’s almost difficult to picture the program without them.
“That’s all that’s in my head right now, that I’ll never put on a North Penn jersey again,” Carangi said.
“I think the fact that it’s not about our names, it’s about the friendships and everyone else together,” Huber said. “Not being able to play with Sam or Ris or any of the junior, sophomores or freshman again, it’s hitting hard.”
All three were four-year varsity players, so they’ve spent a lot of time with each other and that’s what they’ll be taking with them. Carangi is heading to Villanova while Ye and Huber are both playing at USciences but no matter where else the game takes them, they’ll always have the last four seasons.
“It’s the memories, the journey we had,” Ye said. “The whole year, how we came together at the end, I appreciate everyone.”
Cardinal O’Hara 51, North Penn 45
NORTH PENN 7 13 5 20 – 45
CARDINAL O’HARA 16 12 8 15 – 51
North Penn (45): Irisa Ye 3 8-8 14, Jess Huber 5 0-0 12, Sam Carangi 1 2-2 4, Bri Hewlett 1 2-2 5, Jenny Hulmes 3 0-0 7, Carley Adams 0 2-2 2. Nonscoring: Jess McKenzie. Totals: 14 12-12 45
Cardinal O’Hara (51): Molly Paolino 2 2-2 7, Mary Sheehan 4 1-2 10, Kenzie Gardler 4 4-5 12, Hannah Nihill 3 3-4 10, Maura Hendrixson 4 1-2 12. Nonscoring: Leight, Hoy. Totals: 17 11-15 51
3-pointers: NP – Huber 2, Hulmes, Hewlett; CO – Hendrixson 3, Paolino, Nihill