O’Hara goes cold at wrong time against rival Neumann-Goretti

MARPLE >> It would have taken a collective effort for Cardinal O’Hara to knock off mighty Neumann-Goretti Wednesday night.

It would have required extra focus and discipline. If there was an opportunity to seize control, the Lions had to pounce. They could ill-afford to become mistake-prone.

The No. 1 team in Delaware County knows all of this. It’s not breaking news.

“If there is a way to be over-prepared,” senior Mary Sheehan said, “that’s kind of what we were tonight.”

Nobody is going to blame O’Hara’s 51-37 loss on going the extra mile in preperation for the Saints, but perhaps Sheehan has a point.

Maybe the Lions were … too ready, if there is such a thing.

“Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been hitting the gym and shooting thousands and thousands of shots, to get ready for a game like this,” said senior guard Hannah Nihill, the 2016 Daily Times Player of the Year. “I feel like we were thinking about it too much. That was our problem.”

Cardinal O’Hara’s Hannah Nihill goes to the basket in Wednesday’s Catholic League game against Neumann-Goretti. The All-Delco scored 15 of her 23 points in the fourth quarter, but the Lions fell, 51-37.

The Lions shot 24.5 percent (13-for-53) from the floor against the Saints (9-3).

That’s not going to cut it.

“We’ve been on recently with our shooting,” Nihill said. “We’ve been in a rhythm the past couple of games and for most of the season. We were bound for a game like this, I think. All we can do is learn from it and continue to get into the gym and shoot.”

The Saints began the game on a 7-0 run, so the Lions leaned on Nihill (six points) and 3-pointers from Maura Hendrixson and Bridgette Hoy to pull them back within two points at the end of the first quarter. Nihill’s bucket early in the second quarter tied it.

“We built this up to be a big game. It was like a championship atmosphere,” said Sheehan, a two-time All-Delco, who scored a season-low two points on 1-for-9 shooting. “It was high intensity. We said in the locker room that we have to punch them first, that we can’t be laid back. I think we were down 7-0 to start and from there, I don’t think we ever really got into a rhythm … I hit a shot at the end of the second quarter and then never again, so it was just one of those nights.”

The Saints used a 14-0 run after the Lions evened the score to pull away. From the time Nihill tied the game at 15 until the end of the third quarter, the Lions scored nine points on 2 of 22 shooting from the floor. All-Delcos Sheehan and Kenzie Gardler combined for only one basket and 18 misses. Maura Hendrixson hit a pair of 3-pointers, but the Lions struggled to find consistent production outside of Nihill, who scored a game-high 23 points on 9 of 22 shooting.

Without their outside shots falling, O’Hara (7-3, 4-1) was forced to find other ways to score. But the Saints didn’t allow any daylight, especially inside the paint.

“They are very long and lengthy, so it’s hard to drive on them in the first place,” Nihill said. “Once we get in, they swarm to the ball and it’s hard to dish. You just have to draw the contact, but when they’re so athletic like that, you really struggle to do anything really.”

Nihill finally was able to take the ball to the rack against Goretti’s zone in the fourth quarter, but by that point the game was out of reach. Nihill took matters into her own hands, showing the type of fearlessness that makes her a Division I player. She poured in 15 points in the final stanza.

Nihill’s steal and layup got the Lions within single digits with two minutes to play, but Ashley Jones and the Saints sealed the victory at the free-throw

O’Hara’s Kenzie Gardler, left, tries to drive past Neumann-Goretti’s Ashley Jones, who scored 22 points to lead the Saints to a 51-37 victory.

line. Jones, a senior guard who is bound for West Virginia, netted 22 points and went 14-for-17 from the foul line.

“This was about us wanting to come out to win and prove to people that we are the No. 1 team in the state,” Jones said. “That’s all it was, really. We just needed the ‘W’ because we felt a little disrespected, like teams didn’t think we were good, so we wanted to show what we could do.”

Sophomore big Tatyanna Jones, who transferred to Neumann-Goretti from Imhotep Charter, was a dominant force on the low-post. Jones had eight points, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots. Sheehan, who is O’Hara’s tallest player at 5-foot-11, had a team-high seven rebounds.. But the Saints controlled the boards with ease, 30-15.

O’Hara has been in this spot before, taking one on the chin against Neumann-Goretti, which ranks among the top programs in the country. There’s a long way to go, and the Lions believe they have what it takes to have a memorable season.

“It’s not going to take long. We will have a short memory,” Sheehan said. “We’ll get back to school (Thursday) and we have a game Sunday against a really good team (St. Elizabeth of Delaware). We’re going to regroup. This was a bit of a wake-up call, but we’re glad it happened now and not in March.”

In a nonleague game:

Cheltenham 51, Interboro 34 >> The Bucs had no answer for Cheltenham’s Mia Leonard, who scored seven of her game-high 22 points in the first quarter. Marta Walewska scored eight points and Amber Seamen and Gina McNamee each had six for Interboro (5-5).

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