Archbishop Wood can’t finish rally, falls to Neumann-Goretti in PCL final

PHILADELPHIA — At halftime, things weren’t going great for Archbishop Wood.

The Vikings bus had been late arriving and they were late reaching the Palestra, so the start of their Philadelphia Catholic League girls final against Neumann-Goretti had been delayed about 20 minutes. Then, the Saints had come out scorching, and had an 11-point lead.

In the locker room, interim coach Mike McDonald told his team they could’ve been down more and all it had to do was chip away. Chip away the Vikings did, but a late look at a tying 3-pointer skimmed over the rim and Wood fell 50-45 in a game where it put a scare into Neumann-Goretti.

“I told them 11 points is not that many points, especially with the way (N-G) was shooting the ball in the first half,’ McDonald said. “They were shooting the lights out and I told them we were coming out in man and that would help out, it’s just easier to contest shots. We were down to a really good team earlier in the year where we came back and won, so they’re familiar with a big game and being down in a situation like that.’

All-state forward Bailey Greenberg was sensational in a losing effort, scoring 24 points and willing her team back into the game in the second half. Greenberg was the only Viking in double-figure scoring, but Aubree Brown had eight points and Cassie Sebold scored five off the bench.

Goretti got three players in double figures and used its potent combination of size and speed to frustrate Wood defensively, though the Saints had trouble containing Greenberg. But for a few moments late in the afternoon, Greenberg and her teammates wondered if they were even going to see the floor at the famous arena on Penn’s campus.

“We were waiting, waiting and waiting and the bus still wasn’t there,’ Greenberg said. “We all got in our cars and then the bus came so had to go back and get on.’

The Vikings did arrive and the game did begin as the Saints came out rolling. They led 4-0 less than a minute in before Greenberg scored two straight for the Vikings. Neumann-Goretti closed out the first quarter with a 16-15 lead despite an eight-point, one assist frame from Greenberg.

McDonald said he didn’t believe the travel issue and late arrival affected his team and for a quarter, his squad’s play backed that up. But the second quarter was a much different story. The Saints marched out on an 8-0 run through the first 4:31 to take a 24-15 lead. Greenberg quelled it slightly with two made free throws and a hoop bookending a split pair of foul shots by N-G’s Kamiah Smalls.

But Smalls would be big in the last minute of the half. She drilled two 3-pointers around a free throw by Brown that handed N-G its 11-point halftime edge.

“I don’t think we ever really got down because we knew they’re a really good team and this could happen,’ Greenberg said. “We just had to stay positive and look on the bright side.’

The Saints extended the lead to 12 when Alisha Kebbe’s trey made it 34-22, but Brown quickly cut it back to 10 on a score inside assisted by Greenberg. With 3:40 left in the third quarter, Greenberg kick-started the comeback bid with authority.

A handoff gave the forward the ball well past even the collegiate 3-point line and she just rose, fired and drilled the shot to cut the Saints lead to 35-27, prompting the Saints to take a timeout.

“I think we got more confidence,’ Greenberg said. “That was the start of us coming back and chipping away.

“I just thought I’m open. I don’t normally shoot 3s.’

Shannon May, Sebold and Brown combined for the next five Wood points as the Vikings made it 39-32 with 55.6 left in the frame. After a stop, Greenberg cut the lead down to two possessions when she canned another 3-pointer, her third make from downtown, with 45.4 left.

Smalls managed to slip a bucket in with 0.7 left on the clock to push the Saints lead back to six, but Wood was fully back in the game.

Ciani Cryor got it back up to eight with the first score of the final quarter, but Wood scored the next six over a 1:42 span to put pressure back on the Saints. Kate Connelly got the mini-surge going with two makes at the foul line, then Brown fed Greenberg inside on back-to-back plays to slim the lead all the way down to 43-41 with 5:02 to play.

Undeterred, Neumann-Goretti was extremely patient on the following possession, resetting over and over as it searched for the right shot. Finally, Sianni Martin saw it as she drove, took contact and finished before hitting the foul shot for an incredibly clutch three-point play.

Wood missed its next shot, but forced the Saints into a turnover still trailing by five. The Vikings went to what had been working, Greenberg, and the forward responded by getting to the line and sinking two freebies.

“Bailey was awesome,’ McDonald said. “We had some issues checking out and rebounding but Bailey was the one in there battling. She has some unbelievable leaping ability and she’s just a threat. As soon as she has the ball in her hands, she’s a threat and Neumann-Goretti had to respect that and everybody has to respect that. It just tends to open things up for us.’

Needing to foul, Wood tagged Smalls, who calmly hit both ends of the one-and-one. The Vikings didn’t rush the next possession and got a Brown score at the rim because of it, then fouling Christina Aborowa, who missed the front end of the one-and-one with Greenberg securing the board. Wood called timeout there with 19 seconds left and set up a potential tying play.

After advancing the ball past the halfway line, Sebold took it to the right wing as Greenberg flashed up to the top of the arc. With a trap coming, Sebold skipped Greenberg and found Brown, who made a quick pass over to Shannon May, who dribbled once to avoid a close-out and fired a 3-pointer. The shot was on the right line but just a hair long, grabbing enough of the rim to ricochet straight up and down to a waiting Saint rebounder with 3.2 seconds left.

Goretti made sure there wouldn’t be any chance for a late mistake as Cryor fired the inbound long to Smalls, who had slipped behind the defense and laid in the ball with 1.2 left to seal up the PCL title.

“I know what kind of competition we’ll have but this is the best team we’ll play for the rest of the year,’ McDonald said. “It doesn’t mean there aren’t other good teams, but they’re the No. 1 team in the country and they’ll be the best team we play all year. Being battle tested, knowing we came so close, we were a roll off the rim from tying it up, that should be a confidence boost.’

Despite the loss, Wood’s season isn’t over as the Vikings will still play for the District 12-AAA title and will look to build another long run in the PIAA tournament.

“Even though we lost, I think it gives us a lot of confidence,’ Greenberg said. “We played well as a team and I’m excited for states.’

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