HERSHEY — There was no hiding from the fact that Archbishop Carroll faced a substantial size disadvantage in Saturday’s PIAA Class 5A championship game against Chartiers Valley.
The Indians’ height and girth figured to give the Patriots fits.
Three Chartiers Valley starters — Mackenzie Wagner, Aislin Malcolm and Gabi Legister — stand 5-10 or taller. Legister, a 6-2 center, presented the biggest challenge. For good measure, they have a freshman, Perry Page, who is 5-11.
“Going in, we knew the big kid (Legister) would be trouble. We just didn’t have the length inside,” Carroll coach Renie Shields said. “We knew they were going to isolate down low. We were hoping we would make shots, to be honest. It’s really that simple. If only we can make some shots …”
The was no way for the Patriots to make enough to keep up.
Wagner scored 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting from the floor. Register added 13 points and seven rebounds and the District 7 champion Indians’ pound-it-inside approach paid dividends in a 53-40 victory over Carroll at Giant Center.
The Patriots, who were vying for their third PIAA championship, finished the the 2018-19 campaign with a 25-6 overall record. They won both the Catholic League and District 12 titles.
Completing the championship trifecta wasn’t meant to be.
“They were a really, really tough team,” senior guard Harlem Jennings, who tallied six points, five rebounds and two steals said of the 30-0 Indians. “Their guards are all really good shooters. There was no one who you felt comfortable taking a step off of because everyone was good. … They had a really good game and we were just a little off.
“They had that big girl who scored a lot. They could dish it in and dish it out. They just did everything they were supposed to.”
Chartiers Valley coach Tim McDonnell, the father of 76ers guard and Chartiers Valley alum TJ McConnell, was concerned about the Patriots’ strengths to cause turnovers and press at any point in the game. Carroll won a lot of games this year against teams that possessed a significant size upgrade over them,
“The one we think that we thought, after talking to some coaches and watching them on film, is that they pressed a lot,” McConnell said. “I thought it really helped us that, when they did trap us, we were able to get down the floor and get easy baskets. We didn’t have to work on the offensive end of the floor when we broke their press, and I thought that was a key for us, especially in the beginning.”
Carroll never held the lead. Wagner banked a 3-pointer to give the Indians a 9-4 lead in the first quarter. Freshman guard Grace O’Neill hit a 3-pointer for the Patriots to even the score at 12 apiece, but the Indians closed the first period on a 5-0 run.
The Patriots’ Erin Sweeney made the second of her two treys early in the second quarter to cut the deficit to two points. Later, Sweeney made a layup to get the Patriots within three points in the closing seconds of the first half.
But Carroll chilled in the second half. The Patriots shot 2-for-13 in the third quarter and 3-for-13 in the fourth.
The Indians began to pull away in the opening minutes of the third and outscored the Patriots, 19-9. When they stepped to the foul line, they couldn’t miss. The Indians scored all 11 of their points in the fourth quarter from the charity stripe and finished 21-for-24 for the game.
Megan McConnell, the coach’s daughter, added five points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
“They’re well-coached and they have a guard (McConnell) who can handle the ball. They’re just an all-around good team,” Shields said. “When they got ahead we knew they were going to stall and we knew we had to go after them as hard as we can. But you can only do so much. And they made free throws, too.”
Sweeney was the Patriots’ high scorer with 19 points. Jennings, O’Neill and Karli Dougherty chipped in with six apiece.
“I don’t think they were at a different level than us, but I do think we just didn’t have a good game,” senior guard Mary DeSimone said. “We had two amazing games before this, and I don’t think we can base one game off our entire season. It was a great year.”
Shields, a longtime assistant at Carroll before taking the helm three seasons ago, will miss seniors Jennings, DeSimone and Bridget Hislop.
“Our seniors really set a great example for our young kids, and really moved the program in the right direction,” Shields said.