Sometimes Mary Sheehan forgets.

You can't blame the Cardinal O'Hara junior. When you've been playing basketball with Hannah Nihill as long as she has you start to take things for granted.

Things such as the ever-so-smooth ball handling, the high pressure 'D' and the blazing speed with which she gets herself down the court. They all become expected.

It started when they were nine years old and tried out as fourth graders for the fifth-grade AAU Comets team. There were so many talented kids that year that a fourth-grade team was formed for the first time.

Nihill and Sheehan have been winning games together ever since.

"I'm so used to playing with Hannah and seeing her make plays that sometimes I watch other point guards and wonder why they didn't do what she would do," Sheehan said. "Then I remember they aren't Hannah. I'm so amazed at the stuff she can do that I forget Hannah's so special."

Sheehan's pretty special herself, and together, the duo has led the Lions to the PIAA Class 4A semifinals. On Tuesday, O'Hara plays North Penn at 7:30 p.m. at Spring-Ford for a chance to compete in the state championship.

"Losing the PCL was really tough," Nihill said of the Catholic League title. "People say,'Oh, well, you still have next year.' At this point, no, we don't want it just next year. We wanted it to be this year, too. Now, with states, we want to go out there and get something for ourselves so we don't have to say, 'There's always next year.' "

You can call it the maturation of Hannah Nihill.

It's a progression during which the 5-foot-5 guard went from sixth man off the bench her freshman year to floor general and the Lions' engine as a junior.

For the Drexel recruit, it was a regular season thriller against Bonner-Prendergast that first year that really showed what she could do. In that game - with O'Hara the underdogs - Nihill scored the game winner with just seconds remaining in the contest.

"I was really young at that point," Nihill said. "But I think that proved that I should be out there. It made me realize that this sport was for me, that this was something I really wanted to get better at."

She did get better at it and quickly.

As Nihill took over at the point her sophomore season, she became a consistent and dangerous threat on offense while learning to dictate play and provide a calming presence to a team full of young guns.

"The point guard position is almost a mentality," Sheehan, a St. Joseph's recruit, said. "It's thinking, 'I'm going to come out there and set the tone for the team. I have to get the ball for people.' I don't know if I could be a point guard. It's a lot of pressure. She does a great job of knowing when to take a shot, when to drive and when to pass."

If the late game heroics against the Pandas two years ago signaled Nihill's arrival, Friday night's state game against Garnet Valley proved to be the bookend demonstrating she was here to stay.

In the contest against the Jaguars, Nihill took the basketball the length of the floor and got a floater off with less than a second remaining in a tie contest, getting fouled in the process. She buried both free throws, and her team emerged victorious.

The result was the same - a Lions win - but the player, although she still wore No. 20, was much different. This version of Nihill was more confident, more willing to take shots and a more vocal leader.

"I could play with her for 10 more years," Sheehan said, "and it still wouldn't be enough."

They won't have an additional decade of playing time together.

But what time they do have left, you can be sure that they are going to make it count.