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Girls Basketball: Keara McCaffrey standing tall for young Sacred Heart team

Sacred Heart's Keara McCaffrey, left, goes up for a shot in the first half Thursday against The Christian Academy's Elle Cryan. (Pete Bannan - MediaNews Group)

RADNOR TWP. — Keara McCaffrey knew she had her hands full the moment she took a good look at the tallest player on the other team Thursday.

Sacred Heart Academy’s sophomore power forward has excelled in her first full season as a starter. As a freshman, McCaffrey was a flex player on JV and varsity, forced into action with the elders due to a series of injuries to senior players. The Lions went on to capture their sixth consecutive District 1 Class 2A title and McCaffrey proved to be a solid contributor.

This season McCaffrey is one of the go-to players for Sacred Heart coach Zach Shuler. She is developing into a talented low-post presence on both ends of the floor and continues to gain confidence on a young team that doesn’t have any seniors. Sophomore point guard MJ Donohue was a starter last year and the Lions’ leader on the floor. She is probably the closest Shuler has to a team captain.

McCaffrey is emerging as another player Shuler can trust to lead by example. She had one of her toughest challenges against The Christian Academy. Her assignment was to defend 6-3 power forward Amber Bullard. While McCaffrey gave up a few inches to Bullard, she kept the La Salle commit in check and helped Sacred Heart cruise to a 54-21 win.

“It took me a few minutes. Normally I’m one of the tallest players in the game … and I was a little iffy going up against her,” McCaffrey said. “As soon as I got comfortable and blocked out what was going on around me, I was able to get my game on and do what I normally do.”

Sacred Heart’s (21) MJ Donohue drives for the basket after a stealn the first half against The Christian Academy. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

McCaffrey was excellent at grabbing rebounds (16), blocking shots (three) and scoring inside the paint Thursday. She finished with 13 points on six field goals, showing an ability to post up and make swift moves to the hoop. McCaffrey also displayed an ability to pass and find her teammates for open jump shots.

“We definitely have a lot of confidence in each other,” McCaffrey said. “Since we are a lot younger we do have that closer connection, if you will. Since we’re all so closer in age I feel like that definitely helps.”

Shuler didn’t know what to expect from McCaffrey before the season. He believed she was going to be a factor on the team, but to what extent Shuler could not predict. With the regular season winding down, McCaffrey is the Lions’ top producer, averaging roughly 14 points and more than 10 rebounds per game. It’s clear that she has progressed in leaps and bounds.

“Last year we had 22 players on the roster and six seniors who started or got a lot of playing time for us. I knew Keara was going to be able to contribute, but we didn’t want to rush her,” Shuler said. “We had Ainsley Davis who was an effective post player for us, so we didn’t need to rush Keara. We wanted her to get to play on JV and get her to work on her footwork and get her to feel comfortable in the post. We knew defensively she was going to be phenomenal; she blocks shots and she times them really well, she rebounds the ball really well. … Keara actually did play earlier than expected last year because of all the injuries we had. We had three seniors go down early, so we thought, let’s pair Ainsley and Keara together. That’s how it happened. She proved herself as the games went along. She wasn’t really a scorer for us, but she could get a bucket here and there.

“In the offseason she really worked on footwork and came to all of the offseason workouts. Early in our fall league she was looking tentative and I told her, ‘Keara, you just have to go for it. You have to try some post moves and some of your shots. Don’t worry about missing them.’ She’s come a long way. I did not expect to get much production offensively from her, so that’s been a very pleasant surprise. We knew she was capable … and her ceiling is still pretty high and she hasn’t reached it yet. She still has a lot to gain and improve on, which is really exciting for her and our program.”

Sacred Heart’s (13) Megan Donahue steals a pass in the first half against The Christian Academy. (PETE BANNAN-DAILY TIMES)

Donohue and freshman Megan Donahue (slightly different spellings, no relation) have been a formidable backcourt tandem for the Lions. Donohue was excellent on defense with six steals and scored all nine of her points in the first half. Donahue totaled a game-high 14 points, showing off a nifty floater/running jump shot. Sophomore Grace Brown came away with four steals and dished out six assists. Junior wing Maya Brown added six points, three assists and two blocks.

Clinging to a 10-8 lead through one quarter, the Lions turned up the defense and forced the Crusaders to make several mistakes. All told, the Lions recorded 16 steals and caused 24 turnovers. They outscored the Crusaders, 44-13, after the first period.

Bullard led the way for TCA (15-3) with 11 points and seven rebounds. The Crusaders are the No. 1 team in the District 1 Class A standings.

Playing an independent schedule, the Lions (10-6) close the regular season with games against Upper Darby, MaST Charter, Merion Mercy and Bonner & Prendergast. They should earn the No. 2 seed in the four-team District 1 Class 2A tournament. A rematch of last year’s final with Delco Christian awaits in the semifinals. Faith Christian, which defeated the Lions by a point on the opening night of the season, is the top team.

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