Notre Dame Academy earned a berth in the final of the 18th annual West Chester University girls' basketball classic Tuesday night, rallying from an 11-point, first-quarter deficit to pull out a 61-52 victory over Cheltenham.
The Irish will meet Cardinal O'Hara, a 41-37 semifinal winner over Villa Maria Academy, in Wednesday night's final.
The Irish rebounded from a 20-9 deficit with their three-point shooting and finished the comeback with some key free-throw shooting. They hit four treys in the second quarter, including two in the last 28 seconds.
Colleen Olinger's three-pointer with 58 seconds left in the half gave Notre Dame a 28-28 tie. Notre Dame took its first lead of the night with 34 seconds left on Molly Borgese's field goal.
The Irish never looked back, thanks primarily to the work of sophomore guards Megan McGurk and Kathleen Fitzpatrick.
McGurk finished with a game-high 21 points. Her total included a perfect 10-for-10 performance at the free-throw line. Eight of those free throws came in the fourth quarter when the Panthers were pressing to close a gap that had gotten as high as nine points.
"I wasn't nervous shooting the foul shots," McGurk said. "I've been practicing a lot lately because there were times [this season] when I've been hot and cold."
McGurk received a lot of offensive help. Fitzpatrick, her backcourt partner, added 19 points, including five three-pointers. Borgese, a junior center, scored 16.
"Cheltenham's a quality team, but I didn't think they could keep shooting at that pace," Irish coach Mary Beth McNichol said of the Panthers' first-quarter lead.
Cheltenham (4-1) closed the quarter with an 8-0 run.
"They couldn't miss," McNichol added. "We thought we could beat them, but we knew it would take a great game."
The Irish (5-2) made some defensive adjustments after the first period. Olinger helped hold Panthers junior guard Ciera Andrews to 11 points. Tiffany Johnson was the only other Cheltenham player in double figures, with 10.
McGurk and Fitzpatrick drew the admiration of Cheltenham coach Bob Schaefer.
"To have two shooters like that on the same team . . . and Borgese, too," he said. "We've got to get more physical. It's all part of our learning experience."
Unlike the semifinal between Cheltenham and Notre Dame, there was a question in the other semifinal between Villa Maria and O'Hara whether the two teams would combine for 60 points.
O'Hara overcame a first quarter in which it scored only four points, held off a late charge by Villa, and went on to win.
Freshman Aminah Fahit 5 of 6 free throws and a three-pointer to help stave off the Hurricanes, who had closed a nine-point deficit to four, 35-31, with 1 minute, 33 seconds to play.
"I thought we played good defense," Lions coach Linus McGinty said, "and those foul shots from Aminah were big."
O'Hara and Notre Dame will play at 7:30 p.m. at Hollinger Fieldhouse for the championship.
Notre Dame 9 24 11 17 – 61
Cheltenham 20 8 11 13 – 52
ND: Molly Borgese 16, Erika Ferro 2, Kathleen Fitzpatrick 19, Megan McGurk 21, Colleen Olinger 3.
C: Ciera Andrews 11, Jiana Clark 6, Christina Coleman 4, Austin Hamler 8, Tiffany Johnson 12, Shayla Peoples 9, Artavia Sheffield 2.
Villa Maria 7 3 9 18 – 37
Cardinal O'Hara 4 9 12 16 – 41
VM: Lauren Martinelli 4, Kellie O'Rourke 8, Maddie McTigue 10, Brooke Angelos 7, Lisa Mirarchi 3, Kristen Walheim 5.
CO: MacKenzie Rule 3, Cary Hazinsky 5, Alex Stam 2, Aminah Farmer 7, Marissa Manning 8, Marikate Gardler 2, Shanice Johnson 10, Maureen Leahy 4.