Confident Neumann-Goretti topples O’Hara

MARPLE — To replicate the speed and athleticism of Neumann-Goretti, Cardinal O’Hara summoned members of the boys soccer team during practice. The Lions figured it couldn’t hurt.

“Obviously,’ guard Molly Paolino said, “(Neumann-Goretti) is more skilled and athletic at basketball.’

And the Saints made that pretty clear Tuesday night.

While O’Hara fought the entire way and had a realistic chance at defeating the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, according to USA Today, the visiting Saints imposed their will in the second half and claimed a 45-28 victory.

It was O’Hara’s first loss of the season.

With its aggressive perimeter and trap defense, N-G (12-0) wore out the young Lions (11-1), who are ranked eighth in the USA Today poll and No. 1 in the Daily Times Super 7.

“They have everything that a great basketball team needs — height, shooting, athleticism and all that,’ said sophomore forward Mary Sheehan, who led the Lions with 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting. “The thing that kills you the most, though, is their confidence. They went 30-0 last year before they lost in the (PIAA Class AA) championship game. This year they’re undefeated as well and they’re all older.’

As for believing in themselves, that was never the issue for the Lions. Neumann-Goretti averaged a mind-boggling 73.1 points per game prior to Tuesday’s showdown. The Lions held the Saints to less than 50 points on 19-of-42 shooting. O’Hara also forced 15 turnovers.

“We went into this game confident as well, confident in ourselves. That’s one thing you can’t mimic, the confidence they have when you play them,’ said Sheehan, who netted all four of her team’s points in the second quarter. “They just feed off each other,

“We try to do that as well with our team … but it’s just something you can’t simulate in practice. They just bring it to a whole other level. I think we went down 9-3 and we kind of built our way back and it was a game at halftime, but by the end of the third quarter we kind of got ourselves in a hole we couldn’t get out of.’

O’Hara didn’t deviate from its starting five of Sheehan, Paolino, Hannah Nihill, Maura Hendrixson and Kenzie Gardler, all of whom played the entire game. Nihill, the team’s leading scorer, didn’t score her first points until the second half. She finished with six points and team highs in rebounds (five) and steals (three).

The Lions appeared to be on the precipice of a big run late in the first quarter when they cut Saints’ lead to 11-10, but N-G scored the first seven points of the second period, though it didn’t run away with things until the latter portion of the third quarter. In the waning seconds of the third quarter, Nihill let go an errant pass that was picked off by CC Cryor, who dashed the other way for an easy layup to put N-G ahead by eight points.

“That steal at the end of the third quarter really killed us,’ O’Hara coach Linus McGinity said. “We had a couple of unforced turnovers, which is something we don’t do. But again, it was more them (Neumann-Goretti) than anything else. They’re a really good team.’

Ultimately, the Lions couldn’t find their groove on offense after an encouraging start. Hendrixson and Paolino nailed 3-pointers in the first period, but the Lions were held without a trey the rest of the way.

“They took us out of our game,’ said Paolino, a freshman guard. “We only got up about 15 shots in the second half. If we could have got more shots up, I think we would have been able to hit some and score more points.’

Despite its amazing success and national attention, Neumann-Goretti had been under investigation by the Philadelphia Archdiocese for potentially awarding athletic scholarships to basketball players. Ex-coach Letty Santarelli, a former Cardinal O’Hara standout and Immaculata All-American, resigned from her position in November, a month before the start of the season. Felicia Aiyotan, a 6-9 junior center, transferred in from Nigeria prior to last season. Siani Martin (six points, two assists) and Jabria Ingram, who did not play Tuesday, are Delco kids.

Andrea Peterson, an All-Delco during her days at Archbishop Carroll in the mid-2000s, currently serves as the team’s head coach. She heaped praise on O’Hara’s young core.

“They know the fundamentals of basketball and they’re very well-coached by Linus,’ she said. “They get everything done, they see the open player and they make the right pass. They’re a real good team and they’re only going to get better.’

The Lions would like another shot at the Saints in the Catholic League playoffs.

“We’re just going to keep playing tough and hopefully we’ll see them again,’ Paolino said. “We’ll know what to do and know what to expect.’

In other Catholic League action:

Bonner-Prendergast 60, West Catholic 28: The Pandas (8-4) were buoyed by Alyssa Monaghan’s 21-point performance and Amber Ballinger, who tossed in 11 points and grabbed six rebounds. Emma Monaghan added nine points and eight boards.

Archbishop Carroll 61, Hallahan 19: Jess Carney dumped in 12 points and Kristen Ryan chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds to lead the Patriots (9-4, 5-0) to their fifth consecutive win. Emma Stringer coupled eight points with six rebounds and Molly Masciantonio dished out seven assists.

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