DOWNINGTOWN >> Facing what seemed to be a dire situation Saturday in a PIAA Class 5A tournament opener, Archbishop Carroll’s Molly Masciantonio reached a conclusion.
“I didn’t want it to be our last game,” the Carroll senior point guard decided. So both offensively and defensively, Masciantonio led a Patriots revival against first-round opponent Villa Maria. Carroll trailed the District 1 runner-up Hurricanes by 10 points midway through the third period, but turned it around and went on to a 46-37 victory over Villa at Downingtown West High.
“Our defense was slow in the first half,” said Masciantonio, who would finish with 23 points, “but we picked it up in the second half. We started to get back in time to contain their fast breaks.”
“The key was our defensive intensity in the second half,” Carroll coach Renie Shields said. “Our whole unit became more aggressive, and were pressuring Villa more in the second half. We don’t have a lot of length, so we have to be aggressive.”
With the victory, Carroll, the third-place finisher from District 12, will face Lower Dauphin (25-3), the second-place finisher in District 3, Wednesday in the second round. Lower Dauphin defeated West Chester Rustin, the fourth-place finisher in District 1, 66-48, in the first round Saturday.
For Villa Maria (20-9), the loss meant the end of the season. The Hurricanes led Carroll nearly the entire first half, and by halftime had a 22-16 lead.
Meanwhile, Masciantonio was carrying most of the load for the Patriots in the first half, scoring 10 points (including two treys) by halftime.
Early in the third quarter, the Hurricanes gradually increased their lead, getting 5-10 junior guard Abby Walheim and 6-1 sophomore forward Paige Lauder inside for scores, and led 28-18 with 3:17 left in the third period.
Then the Patriots abruptly turned the tide, outscoring Villa Maria 28-9 the rest of the way. Masciantonio started the Patriots’ comeback, hitting a trey from the top of the key, then nailing two more quick scores to make the score 30-25.
“Molly does such a good job of controlling the pace for us,” Shields said. “She keeps our focus strong.”
Carroll trimmed Villa’s lead to 32-31 early in the fourth quarter when Patriot junior Harlem Jennings hit both ends of a
one-and-one. Then Patriots sophomore Erin Sweeney caught fire, scoring nine points in the space of about three minutes.
Sweeney nailed a trey from the right side to give Carroll a 34-32 lead, then following a Villa turnover got inside to score for a 36-32 Patriots lead.
After Villa Maria sophomore guard Morgan Warley (13 points) hit a trey from the left side to cut the Patriots’ lead to 36-35, Sweeney worked her way underneath for a score to put Carroll ahead 38-35.
Following a Hurricanes turnover, a Sweeney drive gave the Patriots a 40-35 lead with less than three minutes left.
“Erin’s layups and energy meant so much to us tonight,” Masciantonio said. “She did a good job defensively, too. She usually guards the tallest players on the other team.”
“Erin’s one of our most competitive players,” noted Shields.
Masciantonio showed how competitive she was, too, sparking the turnaround that will get the Patriots to the second round.
“When the final buzzer sounded, my first thought was, ‘I can breathe now,’” Masciantonio said with a laugh.
For Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney, the end of the game brought a different emotion.
“I feel bad that the season has ended for our seniors who have mentored our young players,” said McCartney. “Our players made going to practice so much fun this season – they all worked so hard. I’m really proud of this group of girls.”
“Our (inexperience) sometimes bites us in the backside, and in the second half tonight, we stopped executing on offense,” McCartney added. “We want our players to become warrior women. This was something we talked about in the locker room after the game. We took a big step forward this season, but we’re not finished.”
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