LOWER MERION >> The 18-point lead the Cardinal O’Hara girls basketball team had just a quarter earlier felt like ancient history.
The Lions’ lead was down to one and the atmosphere and momentum in the Harriton gym said they were on the ropes. Freshman Sydni Scott’s body language – her head down during a timeout with 4:36 to play and O’Hara clinging to a 34-33 lead – said so too.
Down, but not defeated.
Scott’s baseline layup and-1 with 3:19 remaining reclaimed a four-point lead and snapped the Lions out of their second-half funk as Cardinal O’Hara downed Spring-Ford, 43-37, in the second round of the PIAA Class 6A playoffs Tuesday at Harriton High School.
The District 12 champion Lions, which got 11 points from freshman Scott and 19 points and seven rebounds from sophomore Amaris Baker, improved to 15-11 as the underclassmen-led team has come of age in a big way in the postseason. O’Hara earns a date with District 1 runner-up Neshaminy – a 70-40 winner over Hazleton Tuesday night – in the quarterfinals on Friday at a date and time to be determined.
“They decided they didn’t want to lose it,” O’Hara coach Chrissie Doogan said. “When I took a timeout with about five minutes to go I said to them, ‘You don’t want this to be Erin (Welde) and Kerry’s (Patterson) last game, do you?’ We had to tell them to keep playing defense, to keep it going, and to remind them that they have to play all 30 minutes.”
Spring-Ford’s campaign ends at 24-5 after winning a second consecutive Pioneer Athletic Conference championship and finishing fourth in the District 1-6A playoffs.
The offensive slump that reared its head in the second half of the Rams’ first round win over District 11’s Nazareth was back in full force in the first half that was dominated by O’Hara’s Baker (15 points).
“Honestly, nothing had to be said. We saw the score. We saw that it was embarrassing, and we just wanted to pick it up for ourselves,” said S-F senior Cassie Marte (5 points). “I’m sad (to lose), but I’m proud of the team. This (season) is my first time winning a game in states. I’m proud of that.”
The Rams didn’t go down without a fight in the second half, closing a 27-9 deficit early in the third quarter to 34-33 with 4:36 to play after a layup and two free-throws from Lucy Olsen, who had a team-high 10 points. Skylar Sullivan provided a spark during the run and finished with eight points, seven rebounds and two assists.
“As they were scoring, my team was starting to get down and so was I,” Scott said. “But I just had to pick them up and do me.
“Nobody else was scoring and we went to that timeout and coach just said, ‘Y’all need to pick it up.’ So I just came out there, pump-faked and went for the layup.”
“That three-point play from Syd was huge,” Doogan said. “We needed that one. We told her to be aggressive and get to the basket and she was able to do that.”
The Lions played high-level defense that was taxing for the Spring-Ford offense throughout and came up with the big basket when it counted most.
“They played really good proximity defense, which is making us work harder on offense,” Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel said. “Even though we were getting some open shots and we couldn’t make them, we had to really work for them. They did a good job really being physical with Lucy. Give them credit for that. That made it tougher.”
Spring-Ford never got closer than three the rest of the way – 40-37 after a Cassie Marte 3 with 21.7 left – and O’Hara did enough at the free-throw line for the six-point win.
O’Hara also got eight points from Siobhan Boylan, five points and five rebounds from senior Kerry Patterson and four assists and four rebounds from senior Erin Welde.
After last year’s first-round exit from the PIAA playoffs with a senior-led team, it might have appeared like the end of an era at O’Hara. Or maybe it was just a new beginning.
Spring-Ford, meanwhile, endures the end of a season that had lots of promise but not enough winning moments in its final stretch. The Rams went 1-3 in their last four games.
The record isn’t where head coach McDaniel’s mind will go to when thinking back on the season.
“Beyond the basketball, it’s really about this group of young ladies,” McDaniel said. “They just bound together as one … That’s the toughest part. I told them that. The toughest part tonight is saying goodbye to part of that group, and that’s the seniors. You still have the other people coming back, but you’re still seeing a part of that group together.
“There was something unique and special about us. You could see it, not just on the court, but when we were in Arizona, wherever we were playing, just the way that we respected each other and the way that they treated each other and how they felt that they were truly a family. That’s what I really take away. Twenty four wins is nothing to sneeze at. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. We can take away with us the wins, but I really take away who they are and what they’ve meant to this program. They were special.”
Spring-Ford’s seniors include Marte, Meghan Moore, Kylee Pufko, Ariana Magazzolo, Lexa Fisher, Olivia Olsen and Abby Goodrich.
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