RADNOR >> Kenzie Gardler drove to the basket and toward the baseline. The Cardinal O’Hara senior guard stopped her dribble, jumped and kicked the ball out to Maura Hendrixson in the corner.
It’s a play that Gardler and Hendrixson have run plenty of times. They tried it once earlier in Friday’s PIAA Class 6A opener against Upper Dublin to no avail.
This time, Hendrixson was fouled while attempting a 3-point shot. She swished three foul shots to tie the game and force overtime.
Upper Dublin guard Jess Polin was called for the foul on Hendrixson. She couldn’t believe it.
“I knew it was fine. I just said to myself, ’It’s not over, it’s not over.,’” Polin said. “Thank God we were able to get it to overtime and we pulled it out.”
Upper Dublin, the ninth-place team from District 1, needed two extra sessions to dispatch an O’Hara team that was a big-time favorite. Polin delivered the crushing blow when she buried a 3-pointer with 1:30 to go in the second extra session.
For Polin, her clutch triple was sweet redemption. She hit three free throws in the final minute to seal the deal and give Upper Dublin a 42-35 victory.
The Cardinals (23-5) advance to the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament to face Garnet Valley, a 56-53 winner over Elizabethtown.
“I knew we needed a big shot,” said Polin who scored six of her 12 points in the second OT. “It felt really good to go ahead and it relieved a lot of pressure,”
For the second straight year, O’Hara underperformed in the state tournament. The Lions, who rode a 13-game winning streak into states and hadn’t lost since Jan. 20, finished with a 21-5 overall record. It marked the end of the road for senior stalwarts Gardler, Hendrixson and Molly Paolino.
“They played really good defense and came really well prepared,” said Gardler, who had a team-high 15 points. “ I also think maybe we looked past them and weren’t prepared enough. I don’t know, I think It was just their night. In states you see a bunch of upsets, but it doesn’t matter who is the underdog or who is supposed to win because anyone can win on any given day.”
Upper Dublin is living proof that records or where you finished in districts doesn’t mean a thing. However, O’Hara first-round exit is a shocking development. Last season the Lions defeated the Cardinals by 28 points in this same game.
“We were definitely coming off a high after beating Wood and Neumann-Goretti and then getting our District 12 championship with Maura hitting all
of those shots (nine 3-pointers, 33 points). It was like we had to come back to reality … and this was definitely a reality check,” Gardler said. “It hit us too late into a game.”
Upper Dublin played lock-down defense on Hendrixson and Gardler after the first period. O’Hara went 4-for-9 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point distance, in the opening quarter but faded the rest of the way. Gardler started hot with eight points. The Lions held an 11-3 advantage through eight minutes and appeared well on their way to the second round.
“When we were down 11-3, we slowed down and looked at what we’re doing wrong and tried to fix those things in the huddle and get back to doing things right,” Polin said.
O’Hara remained in control at halftime, 19-12, before UD stormed out of the locker room and went on an 8-1 run to take its first lead since the opening minute of regulation. Gardler hit a 3-pointer to put the Lions in front by three late in the quarter, but a Vargas layup before time expired gave the Cardinals momentum heading into the fourth.
“I feel as though we really believed in ourselves and that’s all you really need when you go into a big game,” said Maggie Weglos, who paced the Cardinals with 13 points. “O’Hara has great players like they always do every year. We watched the film from last year’s game and we had to learn from our mistakes. We knew they had Gardler and Hendrixson, and we had to keep them in front and know their strengths and weaknesses. I thought we worked really hard at trapping and stopping them.”
O’Hara shot 5 of 32 from the field after the first quarter. As the minutes passed by, it was visible that fatigue was setting in. Hendrixson, who hit nine 3-pointers in the District 12 final last Saturday, shot 2-for-10 from long distance and didn’t make field goal after the second quarter. And the Lions received little to zero scoring production outside of Gardler and Hendrixson, who accounted for 28 points. Sophomore forward Stephanie Huseby had four points, including a basket in the second overtime, and defensive specialist Molly Paolino drilled a 3-pointer. That’s it.
“I think it was hard to get into a flow. They had their 6-foot-2 girl (Jackie Vargas) down low and that made it really hard to drive,” Gardler said. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm and had a difficult time hitting shots consistently. We hit them here or there, but not consistent enough. We couldn’t get into our game.”
Gardler, Hendrixson and Paolino started more than 100 games together on varsity. They won back-to-back Catholic League titles and played in a state final in 2016.
Upper Dublin ended the accomplished careers of three excellent high school players.
“Nobody around has the experience like those three have for O’Hara,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “Our two seniors, Nicole Kaiser (10 points) and Maggie Weglos (12 points), were the ones tasked with guarding Gardler and Hendrixson. They worked extremely hard throughout the week. They had trust in the scouting report. We knew we didn’t want to give them outside shots. With the trust on the back side, with Vargas who was rim protecting, we really zoned into taking away the outside shot.”
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