READING >> Maura Conroy knew it was good.
So did Tom Longergan, watching from his usual crouched position on the sideline. Even Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli wasn’t upset it was the look his team gave up on the final possession.
It was the kind of moments the month of March loves to produce. Sunday at Reading’s Santander Arena, it was Carly Heineman’s turn to be part of one such moment.
Heineman’s baseline jumper with three seconds left was all cotton as it lifted Gwynedd Mercy Academy to a 43-42 win over Northern Lebanon in their PIAA Class 4A quarterfinal. The Monarchs led most of the game, but twice surrendered the lead in the final 80 seconds only to come right back both times.
“Now that we won, it was great, I loved it,” Longergan said. “It’s also a tough way to lose. Carly had a tremendous game, so we set it up for her off the first look and it happened to come back to her on the second look off the drive.”
GIRLS BASKETBALL FINAL: Gwynedd Mercy Academy 43, Northern Lebanon 42
Carly Heineman sends GMA to the semis pic.twitter.com/PalL2xeKKI
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) March 19, 2017
Heineman scored 18 points, including the final five for the Monarchs, who are into the state semis for the first time in Lonergan’s four years. Conroy, the lightning bolt point guard who missed all of last season after shoulder surgery, scored 10 points and provided the assist on the last shot. That it was those two involved on the play was no real surprise, as they had been making it work all game.
After graduating a highly accomplished senior quartet in Erica DeCandido, Brigit Coleman, Maggie Cameron and Mary Claire Casey last year, it took GMA some time to find itself this year. After a midseason game against Villa Maria, Conroy said the team found its stride and put itself in position to make this run.
It’s still a dream playoff for the Monarchs, who lost in the District 1 title game and have knocked off two very good teams the last two rounds in Northern Lebanon and Greater Nanticoke.
“It’s unbelievable, but it’s not the feeling we’re waiting for,” Heineman, a junior guard said. “We’d like to win a state title.”
“It’s my first season back, I was out for pretty much a year,” Conroy said. “To make it this far with my team, especially the two seniors who are my very close friends and do it for them, it’s great.”
The Vikings were an assertive team and played with a lot of purpose, but their coach said they weren’t playing well in the first half. In the meantime, the Monarchs were. Conroy was driving into the lane when she wanted and seniors Danille Senour and Megan Dougherty were controlling the glass.
Gwynedd led 13-9 after one and 25-16 at the half and despite struggling a little bit in the third, still had a 32-25 lead going into the final frame. During that quarter, Senour picked up her fourth foul while guarding Northern Lebanon’s engine, Zoe Zerman. During a timeout, Heineman asked one of the assistant coaches if she could take the defensive assignment.
Heineman isn’t the most boisterous player, but she’s been quite the leader for this group in the playoffs. Conroy said her backcourt partner was the one calming everybody down late and the will to take a tough assignment also says plenty.
“Carly, (Zerman) was going to be tougher to handle but Carly came out to one of my assistants, ‘I’ll take 33,'” Longergan said. “I found out afterward it was Carly and not my assistant that had made the original suggestion. Carly does a tremendous job of keeping her kid in front of her. Maura can get in your shorts, but we needed somebody to stay in front and Carly does that.”
Heinemen held Zerman without a field goal in the fourth until the NL senior dropped in the go-ahead bucket with 23.5 left for a 42-41 lead.
Conroy gave GMA a 36-25 lead with 7:03 left, then the Vikings came storming back. They scored seven in a row with their defensive pressure finally starting to get to Gwynedd and later cut the lead to 38-35 on a Megan Brandt putback.
Northern Lebanon got the rebounds it wasn’t getting in the first half and tied the game on Jenna Wentling’s and-one with 2:11 left. Brandt gave the Vikings their first lead with 1:20 left, both hoops coming after Heineman had missed a pair of free throws with 2:33 left.
The 5-foot-10 guard made up for it by driving and converting a three-point play of her own to give Gwynedd Mercy a 41-40 lead before yielding the hoop to Zerman.
“I knew (Conroy) was going to come to me and it was my job to hit it, I kind of gave up the last basket so I wanted to make it up to my team,” Heineman said. “We all wanted to win it, but I knew someone had to step up and my shots were falling.”
NL took a timeout after Zerman’s hoop and both coaches went to work.
“It went perfect,” Battistelli said. “We were not going to let them get to the rim and we didn’t. In the timeout I said they’re not gettign to the rim and if somebody steps up and hits a long jumper, down one, we’re going to have to live with that.”
Conroy, also a junior, set it up perfectly.
“Our coach said be composed and be calm with the ball, we were going to run ‘Two,’ which is one of our go-to plays,” Conroy said. “I drove to the corner, I knew Carly would be there, that’s her sweet spot for her shot and I knew to look for her there. I knew as soon as it went up it was going in.”
It did and now GMA is one of the last four teams left in the state.
“It’s unbelievable, a lot of us questioned how the season would go after losing all of (last year’s seniors), but we have great players still here,” Heineman said. “This year was more of us coming together to work as a team because we don’t have an Erica or a Brigit. So for us, it has to be a team effort.”
Gwynedd Mercy Academy 43, Northern Lebanon 42
GWYNEDD MERCY ACADEMY 13 12 7 11 – 43
NORTHERN LEBANON 9 7 9 17 – 42
Gwynedd Mercy Academy (43): Georgia Cattie 0 2-2 2, Carly Heineman 7 2-5 18, Maura Conroy 4 2-5 10, Danielle Senour 1 0-1 2, Megan Dougherty 1 2-2 4, Reganne Flannery 1 0-0 2, Bridget Casey 2 1-2 5. Totals: 16 9-17 43
Northern Lebanon (42): Elizabeth Voight 2 0-0 5, Megan Brandt 6 1-4 13, Amber Kintzer 2 4-5 8, Zoe Zerman 4 3-6 11, Zara Zerman 0 5-9 5. Nonscoring: Cassiah Ray. Totals: 14 13-24 42
3-pointers: GMA – Heineman 18; NL – Voight