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Cardinal O’Hara sneaks past Webb, Springfield on Butler bomb

MARPLE TWP. >> Three hours before the basketball season was set to tip off Friday, Mike Webb got the unexpected news that he’d be playing.

The long story, involving an ejection-marred fracas from the first round of the PIAA Class 5A tournament last spring, had Webb assuming he’d be on the bench for the opener at O’Hara. On a whim, though, he packed his jersey just in case, but not his sneakers.

On short notice, all Webb did was have the game of his life, pouring in 40 points for the Cougars.

Yet Webb wasn’t the story Friday night, not even among players wearing a No. 4 jersey. That distinction was pried away in the final moments by Antwuan Butler, whose first game at Cardinal O’Hara is going to be awfully hard to top.

The senior guard canned the game-winning 3-pointer falling out of bounds in overtime, part of his 30-point effort in an unbelievable 83-82 win for the Lions in the neighborhood rivalry.

Butler, a 1,000-point scorer in three seasons at the shuttered Del Val Charter and an Austin Peay commit, scored all seven of his team’s points in overtime. And that was to cap a game in which O’Hara trailed by 15 points with 4:25 to play and by eight with two minutes to play.

Cardinal O’Hara’s No. 4, Antwuan Butler, steals the ball from Springfield’s No. 4, Mike Webb in the first half of a season-opening thriller between the teams Friday night at O’Hara. Butler had 30 points, including the overtime game-winner, in the Lions’ 83-82 victory. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The Lions squandered a chance to win with Elijah Smith on the line with 5.9 seconds left, the sophomore making only one of two while down 76-75. And Smith missed two free throws with 14.6 seconds left in an 82-80 game, only for Mike Conran to rebound and miss two at the stripe. That set up a second-chance bucket for Butler on the final possession, after Garrett Ripp rebounded a missed pull-up jumper by Anthony Purnell and handed off to Butler to take a dribble toward the sideline on the left wing and stroke a perfect arching trifecta while falling into the home bench, leaving a short sprint for the ensuing dogpile.

“Once I saw Garrett dribbling, I glanced at the clock,” Butler said. “And Garrett didn’t seem like he had a shot, and I was facing the basket, so I called for it. And I just let the shot go.”

That’s just the cliff notes version. The full back-and-forth was even more bizarre and scintillating to open both teams’ seasons.

Double back to Webb, who appeared to have the night off. Instead, he was informed by coach Kevin McCormick that the PIAA’s guidance from last year’s states ouster, a 49-45 loss to Mechanicsburg at Hershey High School, ended with Ja’Den McKenzie being ejected instead of Webb, the opposite of what was announced that night. And the opposite of what the focused senior guard thought would be true all summer and fall.

“I just so happened to put my uniform on, and they told me I could play,” Webb said. “I didn’t have my sneakers or anything. … I wasn’t prepared at all. I just went out there and I just said I was going to give everything I had.”

Using the sneakers he had worn to school Friday, Webb hit three first-quarter 3s. He had 19 points at the break, then added 12 in the third quarter and nine in the fourth. Yet arguably his biggest contributions came when he passed the ball. He twice hit Kyle Long for open 3-pointers in transition, one to make it 60-50 early in the fourth, then dropped a cross-court dime to Conran (eight points, 14 rebounds) for a triple on the first possession of overtime.

“Last year, it kind of humbled me because I was in a limited role,” Webb said. “This year, I’m more free, so I’m not going out there trying to score 40. I’m just doing whatever it took to win. … It’s cool and all, but I’d rather have zero if we win. I want to win.”

Long added 13 points, 10 assists and four steals, while Kevin Deal and Frank Durham tossed in 11 points each while combining for 13 boards for the Cougars.

The final sequence epitomized the growth O’Hara has ahead of it this season: Purnell, who rose for the game-tying shot attempt, hadn’t even played in the first half. Only six of the 10 O’Hara players on the court played any significant minutes at the school last year; two now find themselves deep reserves.

Cardinal O’Hara’s Elijah Smith drives to the net in the first half of a game against Springfield Friday evening. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

So if, with Butler and veteran Taseer Jones controlling the ball-handling duties, the supporting cast seemed to grow by the possession, it’s understandable. Jordan Hall, a sophomore who played last year at Middle Township High in South Jersey, scored 19 points, including 12 in the fourth quarter thanks to three 3-pointers, to go with nine rebounds.

With O’Hara looking dead and buried at 67-52, Hall jumpstarted the comeback with a 3-point play and a triple to get within eight, after a Ripp three. Hall added a clutch 3-pointer to get within 73-71, and Ripp stole and laid in the ensuing inbounds to tie the game with 45 seconds left.

“In the huddle, coach (Jason Harrigan) is telling us to fight, the game isn’t over,” Butler said, who just for narrative intrigue fell awkwardly on his right wrist in the second quarter and finished the game with it taped tight. “And we took that into consideration. There’s seconds left on the clock, we’ve got time, make our shots and play hard on defense.”

“It’s going to take time to grow together, because we’re all new here together,” Hall said.

Smith added 11 points, the same total as Ripp.

For all of the drama Webb lived through, the final edge on the scoreboard and in the theatrics category belonged to Butler and his new crop of teammates.

“It was trusting your teammates,” Butler said. “We’re going to win together, and we’re going to lose together. It doesn’t matter who hits the big shot. We’re all a team.”

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