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PIAA Class 6A Girls Basketball: Shots don’t fall early, so Carroll falls in second round

Archbishop Carroll's Grace O'Neill goes up for a shot as Cardinal O'Hara's Bridget Dawson defends Tuesday night. O'Neill scored 15 points in the Patriots' 49-39 victory. (PETE BANNAN - DAILY TIMES)

SHILLINGTON — Archbishop Carroll’s run in the PIAA Class 6A tournament came to a stunning close after only two games.

The Patriots had every reason to believe they were bound to play in Hershey in the final weekend of March. They are the team that went undefeated in the Philadelphia Catholic League during the regular season, beating two of the best programs in the state, regardless of classification.

Then some things started to go wrong for the Patriots.

They saw their best defender, sophomore Brooke Wilson, injured in the Catholic League semifinals. A week later, the Patriots lost the league final by 25 points to Cardinal O’Hara. While Carroll managed to win a District 12 title and its PIAA opener, it was unable to rekindle the magic of its regular season success.

And so, the Patriots didn’t score a single point until 25 seconds remained in the first quarter Friday night at Governor Mifflin Intermediate School. Cedar Cliff, the third-place team from District 3, led from wire to wire and fended off a gritty second-half rally by Carroll to claim a 47-44 victory. The Colts upset the Patriots and are moving on to the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal round.

“I think second opportunities (for Cedaf Cliff) is the number one thing that I would say was the difference. I’m going to think about this game a thousand times in my head,” said senior guard Grace O’Neill, who ended her remarkable career with 14 points and three assists. “And putting the ball in the basket for us, I mean, there’s not much you can always do about that. Sometimes it’s just not our day.”

The Patriots trailed 8-0 before senior Maggie Grant swished a 3-point basket in the final seconds of the first period. Cedar Cliff’s lead ballooned to 17-4 and 21-8 before Carroll ended the first half on an 8-5 run. The Colts were dominating the glass by a 19-6 margin.

After intermission, the Patriots started playing like themselves again. While the Colts took their largest lead of the night at 38-24, the Patriots used a 17-4 run to pull within a point in the fourth quarter. Junior forward Taylor Wilson tallied 10 of her 12 points in the second half and her basket inside the paint cut the Patriots’ deficit to one.

But Cedar Cliff leaned on its sensational freshman, Olivia Jones, who supplied 19 points and 10 rebounds. She also hit six clutch free throws in the fourth quarter, including three that gave the Colts leads of 46-41 and 47-44 in the last two minutes.

“I knew that we had the potential the first day of open gym,” Jones said. “I played with most of these girls for a really long time, so our chemistry is there. And that’s what’s really carried us and everybody plays a significant role and plays their own role and that’s what makes us so good.

“It gave us a lot of confidence knowing that we are playing against one of the best teams in Philly, which carried over into the second half. We knew they were going to make runs and we knew they were going to come back because they’re such a good team. We just had to weather the storm and keep our composure.”

Carroll’s defense failed to stop Cedar Cliff from scoring easy buckets in transition and putbacks under the rim in the first two quarters. The defense made drastic improvements in the second half, thanks in part to the performance of sophomore guard Chloe Bleckley, who came away with four steals and hit a three-point play early in the final stanza to trim Cedar Cliff’s lead to 38-35.

“We didn’t come out very strong, but we really came back in the second half and played much better,” Bleckley said. “We tried to fight back as hard as we could, but we really needed (to play better in) the first half.”

Grant, who is bound for Villanova, drilled a triple with 40 seconds to play to make it a 46-44 game. After a Jones free throw, the Patriots had 19.3 seconds to tie the game Following a Carroll timeout, O’Neill launched a pair of 3-pointers that fell short. Grant got the ball at the top of the key, but time expired before she was able to get off a shot.

Taylor Wilson had 12 points, eight rebounds and two assists for the Patriots. Grant chipped in with 11 points.

“It just didn’t happen for us today,” O’Neill said.

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