MIDDLETOWN >> With 94 feet to move a basketball, and with just under nine seconds to make it happen, Penncrest girls basketball coach Bob Higgins didn’t need to do any time-distance calculating Tuesday night. He already had his answer.
Deliver the ball to Kat Mullaney.
“She likes to get to the rim,” Higgins said. “And we knew she wasn’t going to be running into people.”
So in a tie game with Bishop Shanahan, in overtime, with 8.7 seconds left, Grace Harding inbounded from beneath the Penncrest basket, found Mullaney and watched the rest. She saw Mullaney spin, turn up the speed, blast toward the basket and deliver a layup with three seconds showing to give the Lions a 29-27 victory and a second-round opportunity in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs.
“We knew she would get there fast,” Harding said, “and we let her do her thing.”
By then, Harding had done her thing, too, muscling into the lane and scoring with 5.5 seconds left in regulation to force a 24-24 tie and the overtime. In a game where the host Lions (15-8) did not score a three-point shot, and where the defense from both teams was of championship quality, every point helped.
“I try to use my moves when I can,” Harding said, with a laugh. “But I use my strength a lot.”
As the Lions advanced, their strength was vivid Tuesday, particularly in the third quarter. That’s when they rallied from an 11-10 halftime deficit for a 13-12 lead by denying the Eagles a field goal. The only Shanahan points in the quarter came with nine-tenths of a second left on two Kathryn Greenhut free throws.
Greenhut’s pure, left-handed shooting form would matter later, too. That’s when she buried a three-pointer from the top of the key with 9.7 seconds remaining in overtime, forcing a 27-27 tie. By then, Greenhut had been dominating the defensive glass, particularly in the fourth quarter and overtime, giving the 11th-seeded Eagles a chance for the road upset.
PHOTO GALLERY: Penncrest vs. Bishop Shanahan
“She’s solid,” Shanahan coach Zachary Ray said. “She’s come a long way from the start of the season, especially on the defensive end. That’s been our big challenge with her. She’s accepted the challenge. Sometimes that doesn’t get seen in the stat book. But that’s where she has made her biggest improvements.”
With 15 points, Greenhut was one of the few Eagles (12-11) to solve the man-to-man defense of the sixth-seeded Lions, who could parlay that effort into a deep tournament run.
“That third quarter for us, all year, has been our best quarter,” Higgins said. “We come in and we talk and we say, ‘What do we have to do?’ And it’s them. It’s what do ‘we’ have to do. They see it. They take responsibility. And they do an awesome job.”
Free-throw shooting troubled the Lions late, with three missed front ends in the final minute of regulation. That allowed Samantha McCarter’s two foul shots with 17.3 seconds left to give the Eagles a 24-22 lead. Harding, who had a team-high 10 points, provided the response and the overtime. Mullaney’s speed made the overtime worthwhile.
“Anyone could have had it,” said Mullaney, of the game-winning opportunity. “But I trust myself in that type of situation. I’ve been there before. And I can make it when I have to.”
The challenges will multiply for the Lions, who advanced to a second-round challenge Friday against third-seeded Villa Maria, a 44-19 winner Tuesday over Phoenixville.
“We’re just worrying about playing good defense,” Higgins said. “If we do that, we can play with anybody.”