HERSHEY >> It was the kind of game Archbishop Wood had found a way to win all season.
Struggling offensively, the Vikings were getting enough from their defense to stay in the game, got a clutch shot to tie things and had the ball able to run clock for a final shot. Wood had been there countless times the past four seasons and usually came out on top.
Wednesday night, it was not meant to be.
A great defensive play by Mars guard Tai Johnson on Wood’s final possession led to the game-deciding three-point play as the Fightin’ Planets denied the Vikings a state title three-peat with a 36-33 win at Hershey’s Giant Center.
“We’ve been through a lot of games like that where you feel like we’re never going to make a shot and we’ve overcome it and I just really felt like eventually we were going to get over that hump,” Wood coach Mike McDonald said. “We had some miscues, some bad fouls. They made shots down the stretch and we had that turnover to finish the game.”
The deciding play pic.twitter.com/l22SlAl7UE
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) March 28, 2018
For a half, Wood controlled the game everywhere except on the scoreboard. The Vikings had a huge edge in rebounding margin, their defense was forcing Mars into tough shot after tough shot and they getting a lot of good looks.
The problem was, the Vikings weren’t turning those looks into points. Wood shot just 25.6 percent for the game, hitting just 11-of-43 from the floor. While the Vikings do like to shoot the 3-pointer, their shooting woes extended all the way in to the paint.
“The atmosphere affects people but you just have to keep pushing your teammates and give motivation,” Wood senior Erin Morgan said. “You have to believe we’re going to get open looks and just be patient on offense.”
“I don’t know if it was nerves but it just wasn’t our night shooting,” May said. “It came down to the wire, a couple more plays go our way and we would have won.”
Wood led 12-5 after a quarter and 19-14 at the half and had a 21-12 edge in rebounds. Of the 21 Vikings boards, 13 came on the offensive end and Wood had turned it into 28 shot attempts, 15 more than Mars. The catch was Wood had only converted seven of those chances.
For a while, it seemed like the Vikings would endure, given how stout their defense was playing. Bridget Arcidiacono had a tremendous effort against Mars senior Lauren Wasylson, an Xavier recruit, holding the guard to just four points.
“I tried to get into her a little bit and on the offensive end, she started fouling us, which was good, it eventually led to her fouling out,” Arcidiacono said. “I thought, ‘one of their best players is out, this should make it easier for us,’ but you can’t base it off one player when there’s five players on the floor.”
Wasylson fouled out with 6:51 left in the fourth quarter, the Planets opting to keep her on the floor after she picked up her fourth. Her replacement, Mara Fuller, came in and grabbed three key rebounds in the quarter as Mars slowed started to get back in the game.
“I think maybe that got in our heads a little bit and we got more confident,” Morgan said. “She’s a great player, she’s going to Xavier, but I think we could have locked down better and after that, we should have been able to pull out the win.”
Mars also rebounded much better in the second half and finished with 28 boards to Wood’s 30 for the game. Morgan and May felt the Vikings didn’t recover as well from their doubles on defense and May also noted the Planets started to crash the glass with a lot more energy in the second half.
Mars center Bella Palaia converted a tough three-point play with 3:44 left to tie the game 28-28, then Tai Johnson put the Fightin’ Planets up 31-28 on her lone make from 3-point range with 2:20 left. Palaia stretched it out to three on a basket with 1:48 left, putting Wood’s back to the ropes.
After a missed free throw, Nicki Greenberg grabbed the offensive board, allowing Wood to call a timeout and set up a play. The Vikings ran it perfectly, with May finding Lindsay Tretter for the tying three with 1:05 left on the clock.
Wood forced Johnson into an errant shot, then got up the court and started to run through a set looking for the final shot with about 45 seconds left.
“I’ll look at this tape, probably over and over again tonight, it’s something I’ll look and figure out what we can do if we face this situation again,” McDonald said. “Right now, we’re just going to take in an entire season and be proud of our team.”
The clock dropped under 10 seconds and the game came down to a single moment. May had the ball out past the arc on the left wing when Johnson, who was overplaying off the senior’s back shoulder, pounded.
May went to pass to Kaitlyn Orihel when Johnson pounced, poked the ball away, knocked it away from a diving Orihel and recovered further down the court. The guard, a Bucknell recruit, drew a foul from May on the shot and the ball danced all over the rim before dropping through with 4.2 seconds left.
“We were trying to run a play and we just weren’t on the same page,” May said.
McDonald said he needed to watch the play again, but didn’t place blame on any one thing and credited Johnson for making a good play.
“That’s another opportunity for me to stop it and call a timeout but they made more plays than we did,” McDonald said. “They won a close game and they were very good.”
Wood loses Arcidiacono, Morgan, May and Greenberg, who made four straight state finals in their careers but have a lot of promising young players waiting to supplement the other returners.
“Our team’s so good every year and I know they’ll be back here again next year,” May said. “The girls were great, I’m happy I played the last four years with them.”
“I’m sentimental about it, but I’m happy I got to go on such a long run and be on such a successful team,” Morgan said. “It’s really impressive we made it here and even though we didn’t win, I’m still really proud of us.”
MARS 36, ARCHBISHOP WOOD 33
MARS 5 9 9 13 – 36
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 12 7 7 7 – 33
Mars: Bella Palaia 4 5-7 14, Tai Johnson 3 3-3 10, Alek Johnson 0 2-2 2, Lauren Wasylson 1 2-2 4, Ellie Coffield 2 0-0 4, Mara Fuller 1 0-0 2. Totals: 11 12-14 36.
Archbishop Wood: Kaitlyn Orihel 2 5-7 9, Bridget Arcidiacono 2 1-3 6, Erin Morgan 3 0-0 8, Katie May 2 0-0 4, Lindsay Tretter 2 0-0 6. Nonscoring: Annie Whalen, Ryleigh Parsons, Mia Andrews, Nicki Greenberg. Totals: 11 6-10 33.
3-pointers: M – Johnson, Palaia; AW – Morgan 2, Tretter 2, Arcidiacono.