Archbishop Carroll and Cardinal O'Hara are two of the stellar girls' basketball programs not only in the area, but in the state. Both teams, however, were groping for answers as they met last night in the third game of the Catholic League season.
December basketball showed in both teams, with Carroll, the defending PIAA Class AAA state champions, pulling out a 42-35 victory over O'Hara before a packed house in Carroll's sauna-like gym.
The victory gave the Patriots a 3-0 mark overall and in the league, while O'Hara fell to 2-1 overall and in the league.
The game was not particularly satisfying for either team.
Carroll almost watched a 19-point lead evaporate, and O'Hara seemingly couldn't do anything right in the first half.
Saint Joseph's-bound Erin Shields dropped in a game-high 18 for Carroll, while Maryland-bound Natasha Cloud scored a team-high 12 for O'Hara, including nine in the fourth quarter when the Lions threatened to climb back into contention.
"But we won," Shields said. "We wanted to play at a faster pace, but we didn't run as well as we could have. There are a lot of things we could do better, a lot of things. We have a lot to work, especially on offense. We need to be more patient and not throw the ball away like we did. We could slow down more. But it is only the third game of the season."
Cloud summed up what the Lions, who reached the PIAA Class AAAA state finals last year, need to address if they plan on defending their District 1 title.
"We need to be a better first-half team," the 6-foot senior guard said. "We also have to hold the ball stronger, and we're not used to dealing with the press yet. It'll come together. I'm a senior now, and something I really need to do is work more on my leadership, and calm everyone down when the other team is pressuring us."
O'Hara led twice, 1-0 and 4-2, and that was it. Nicole Daly's basket with 57 seconds left in the first quarter had the Lions within 11-7. But then the game appeared pretty much done by halftime.
Carroll went into intermission up, 28-9, and the score could have been a lot worse. The Pats opened the game by missing their first six shots, but they then hit their next five. Shields already had 14 through the first two quarters, and as a team, the Pats made 10 of 24 shots from the floor.
O'Hara, meanwhile, struggled mightily on offense. The Lions wanted to slow the game down against the faster, quicker Pats. But they could do little on offense, going almost 7 minutes without scoring. During that time, Carroll went on a 17-2 tear to take control of the game.
"We played very poorly in the first half, and it showed we have a ways to go," O'Hara coach Linus McGinty said. "We really had no reason to be as close as we got, but a couple of kids came off the bench and showed some heart, and we got back in it. But we have a lot of work to do."
Just when it all seemed lost, O'Hara came nibbling back. Down, 36-20, with 6 minutes, 24 seconds to play, the Lions climbed back with some stingy defense and a little help from the Pats, who committed five turnovers in the fourth quarter.
O'Hara's Gina McLaughlin hit a pair of free throws with 17 seconds left, pulling O'Hara to within 40-35, but Shields responded by hitting a pair of free throws with 7.2 seconds to play to secure the victory.
"I'm pleased with the way we played defense tonight, but we have a lot of things we need to work on offensively," Carroll coach Chuck Creighton said. "We did learn a lot tonight. One thing is to be more composed on offense. We threw the ball all over the place. We just threw it to them. With all the guards we have, there were way too many turnovers. But we won, and we beat a good team. That's one thing we can take from this."
Carroll and O'Hara will not meet again until possibly the Catholic League playoffs in February. By then, this game will be a distant memory.i