Archbishop Carroll was ahead by three and hanging by a thread. Archbishop Wood senior Alex Heck drove through the lane and scored untouched to put her team down by one with 22.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
A timeout was called and both teams jogged toward their respective benches. Junior Sarah Curran, the defender who had allowed the previous basket, had a message for her teammates.
“That was my fault,” she said.
While arguably true, it spoke volumes for Curran’s maturity. And it also explained why Curran was the most excited player on the court after Carroll survived an incredibly tantalizing 40-38 Catholic League championship victory Feb. 27 at the Palestra.
While the Patriots cut down the net in winning their third championship in four seasons and four in the past six, Carroll coach Chuck Creighton talked about how his players strongly advocate personal accountability, Curran’s mea culpa presenting a prime example.
“We play as a team,” Creighton said. “You can score 20 or score three. There are a lot of ways to contribute. We gutted this one out. We knew it was going to be really hard.”
Indeed. The Pats (23-2) were playing a Wood squad (15-10) that had shocked previously undefeated-in-the-league Cardinal O’Hara in the semifinals. So in trying to defend their 2011 title highlighted by a game-winning shot by current senior Taylor Kaminski with five seconds left, it could be argued that the Vikings were particularly dangerous because few expected them to pull off another monumental upset against the team they had defeated in last year’s final in eerily similar conditions.
Asked ad nauseam by a reporter to what extent he had discussed with his team Carroll’s gut-wrenching loss to Wood in last year’s final, Creighton admitted that the thought obviously crossed his team’s mind but not to the extent that some might have hoped to hear.
“This year’s team battled,” he said. “I am really proud of each of them. I made some coaching mistakes late in the game but thankfully we were able to overcome them.”
Offsetting Kaminski’s 11 points and spirited play by freshman Aubrey Brown (two clutch three-point shots in the fourth quarter), Carroll seized a 13-4 lead after the first quarter and then withstood a strong second quarter by the Vikings, culminated by a three-pointer at the buzzer by sophomore Jess Kaminski (Taylor’s sister) to make it 22-20 at halftime.
The second half was like a Rocky Balboa-Apollo Creed movie montage, both teams landing punches and then retreating to receive some in return. That the contest went into overtime seemed appropriate.
Asked to describe her feelings after delivering eight points and nine rebounds, Curran said she was simultaneously “thrilled” to not only win a championship, but to have another year to defend it. She was also “relieved” that her aforementioned rare defensive lapse didn’t prove to be fatal.
“We recognize that this is a team game and every player is important,” said the graduate of Media’s Nativity B.V.M. Grade School. “I felt bad about it and they knew it, but they picked me up.”
Along with senior Rachel Pearson (seven rebounds, five points, key blocked shot in overtime), those who rose to the occasion included senior Meghan Creighton, a superb guard — and daughter of the head coach — who had missed six games with mononucleosis but was able to help abundantly in the postseason.
Of her team-high 16 points, three were scored from the foul line in the four-minute overtime. But she could not relax until a desperate three-point launch from center court by Wood’s Jackie Pierson skimmed the rim at the buzzer, sending the Patriots to an impromptu hugging session serenaded by their fans’ boisterous applause.
“I had a flashback to last year on that final shot,” said the Drexel University-bound Creighton. “I was praying a little bit.”
God was obviously in a tough spot, because Archbishop Wood was simultaneously praying for something totally different.
“We know what they are feeling over there,” said Coach Creighton. “We’ve been there.”
Not on this night.
John Knebels can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.