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PIAA Girls Basketball: O’Hara’s youth movement beginning to pay off

Cardinal O’Hara’s youth movement for the 2018-19 season required first-year head coach Chrissie Doogan to espouse patience.

Doogan knew this year would be a new era for the program the day she was promoted from her role of assistant coach.

“This team never played together before this year, and everything was new. It took a lot of time,” Doogan said after the Lions’ win over Plymouth Whitemarsh in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament.

“We were so fortunate in the past with Kenzie (Gardner), Maura (Hendrixson), Molly (Paolino) and (Hannah) Nihill. All those kids grew up playing together. These guys have never played together, so it does take some time. We’ve been tested, we’ve been in games where we’ve had big leads and lost it. Today’s win was a real gut-check. It was a gut-check win where they were down and had to battle back. I’m so proud of them.”

Sophomore guard Amaris Baker keyed the Lions’ resurgence in the fourth quarter. She tallied 14 points and made four steals. But it was O’Hara’s solid defense that was the real story.

One of Doogan’s more underrated players is senior guard Erin Welde, who was a reserve player on those great O’Hara teams before earning a starting job this season. Welde and Kerry Patterson are the team’s only seniors, and both are relied on for their leadership abilities. Welde doesn’t score often, but she is extremely valuable to Doogan due to her solid play on defense. Welde is not a flashy player, but she is steady.

“I don’t like taking her off the court,” Doogan said. “She doesn’t shoot, but I don’t like taking her off the court because she just plays hard. She even tipped the inbounds pass with five seconds to go (in the fourth quarter against Plymouth Whitemarsh), just to make them a little bit different. She just goes out there and plays hard and plays very good defense.”

O’Hara plays District 1 fourth-place finisher, Spring-Ford, in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament Tuesday at Harriton. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Spring-Ford rebounded from back-to-back losses in the District 1 tournament, including a down-to-the-wire defeat to Garnet Valley in the semifinal round, with a 48-44 decision of District 11’s third-place team, Nazareth. Sophomore guard Lucy Olsen is the Rams’ most dynamic offensive player who can shoot the 3-pointer and drive to the hoop.

That veteran-laden O’Hara team last season, which was led by 2018 Daily Times Player of the Year Hendrixson and All-Delco guard Gardler, had expectations of playing in Hershey for a state title. Instead, they ran into an Upper Dublin squad that proved to be a very difficult matchup, and the Lions lost in double overtime in the first round of the state tournament.

Fast forward one year and this young, up-and-coming O’Hara team with very little expectations has made it to the second round. Funny how basketball works.

“I’m just very proud of these guys,” Doogan said. “It’s been a struggle at times, but they’re getting it together now and they’re really starting to grow together. It takes time with a young team but they’re starting to show it now.”

The winner of O’Hara and Spring-Ford will meet either District 2 champion Hazleton or District 1 runner-up Neshaminy in the quarterfinals Friday.

Elsewhere in the Class 6A tournament:

Garnet Valley vs. Bethlehem Freedom at Souderton, 6 >> The District 1 champion Jaguars (27-1) set a school record for wins in a season (boys or girls) with their first-round victory over District 3 seventh-place finisher Cedar Crest. Emily McAteer paced the Jags with 19 points.

The Patriots (23-5) overcame a slow start against Souderton to win, 50-45. Jennifer Kokolus was a force inside the paint and scored a game-high 18 points to help District 11’s second-place squad advance.

The winner plays either District 1 seventh-place finisher Council Rock North or District 3 runner-up Dallastown in the quarterfinals Friday.

In Class 2A:

Sacred Heart vs Mahanoy Area at Easton M.S., 7:30 >> The District 1 champion Lions (16-8) were buoyed by senior forward Kyra Quigley in a 55-35 win over District 12 third-place finisher Paul Robeson. Quigley scored 29 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots. Carina Fichera chipped in with nine points and nine rebounds.

Mahanoy (23-2) is the District 11 champion.  In a 49-34 opening round victory over Southern Columbia, Mahanoy trailed by 12 points late in the third quarter, but closed out with a 27-0 run. Emily Lawrence scored 20 points for the game, including 16 down the stretch in the second half. Mahanoy beat Sacred Heart, 58-32, in this round last year.

Wednesday
Archbishop Carroll (22-5) began its quest for the program’s third PIAA championship with a dominant performance over District 3’s seventh-place squad, Spring Grove. Junior Erin Sweeney and freshman Grace O’Neill shared scoring honors for Carroll with 20 points apiece. Sweeney and O’Neill combined to make seven 3-pointers. The District 12 and Catholic League champions have won 15 straight decisions.

Next up for Carroll is a second-round date with District 3 runner-up Gettysburg (22-6) at Garden Spot. Tip off is 6:30. Anne Blair led the Warriors with 11 points, and Cheynne Proctor made three straight free throws in the final seconds to see the win.

In Class 4A:

Bonner & Prendergast vs. Lake-Lehman at Freedom H.S., 6:30 >> The District 12 champion Pandas (17-9) defeated Bermudian Springs of District 3, 59-35, in the opening round. Maeve McCann paced the Pandas with 17 points, and Ariana McGeary added 11.

The District 2 runner-up Black Knights (20-6) rolled to a 65-43 win over Jersey Shore in the first round. The team’s scoring star is Madison Borum, who poured in 35 points and eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau in the victory. The senior forward is averaging better than 14 points per game.

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