PCL girls’ basketball

By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

At one point during the season, Cardinal O’Hara’s girls’ basketball team woke up one morning and was ranked first in the nation. A few miles away, Archbishop Carroll’s girls took notice but went about their business in workmanlike fashion.

Then a few days later, O’Hara was shocked by Archbishop Wood, and the nation’s top ranking went kaput.

In the Catholic League playoffs, third-seeded Carroll faced both second-seeded O’Hara and top-seeded Wood, although each had entered the post-season with an 11-1 league record. In the semifinals last week, Carroll emerged victorious against league-rival O’Hara after a rugged battle.

In the Catholic League girls’ championship Monday night at the Palestra, Carroll defeated Archbishop Wood, 35-22, in front of a near-capacity audience.

After a spirited victory celebration, many Carroll players echoed the same sentiment: there’s nothing quite like defeating the two teams considered by many to have been the best entering the playoffs.

“We were confident in our abilities to beat both of them, but we weren’t taking anything for granted,” said Carroll star senior and Boston College-bound Kerri Shields, whose overall contribution of eight points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals didn’t include a statistical measure of sheer hustle and determination. “We knew they were both very good (opponents) and we respected them a lot.”

Wood’s fans might have hoped Carroll would have a let down after the Patriots dispatched defending champion O’Hara. It wasn’t going to happen.

Carroll (24-1), who at 5 p.m. Friday will meet Public League runner-up Prep Charter in a PIAA District 12 tournament at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, have been battling rugged opposition in both league and non-league competition since the opening tap of 2008-09.

However, against the Vikings, the Patriots were unable to break away from a tight margin through the first three quarters. Employing a suffocating, aggressive defense, Carroll gradually separated itself in the final eight minutes and outscored the Vikings 10-3.

“Give them a lot of credit,” said Shields. “They played great defense. We had to stay patient and not force things.”

Shields said sharing the title with her sisters – Erin, a standout junior who has already orally committed to play at St. Joseph’s University and who supplied three steals to the cause; and Shannon, a freshman unable to play after an earlier season-ending knee injury – “made it that much more special.” Each is a product of St. Bernadette School in Drexel Hill.

In winning their fifth league title in 10 years, the Patriots proved that they could win without a slew of players tearing up the score sheet. Hollie Mershon led with 11 points, followed by Shields’ eight.

“This came down to defense,” said second-year Carroll coach Chuck Creighton. “Neither team shot very well but that was because there weren’t many easy shots. It was a hard-fought game.”

The loss was difficult for the Vikings. They had out-rebounded the Patriots and had trailed 15-14 at halftime. But poor shooting from the field (7 for 34), especially from three-point land (0 for 12), provided evidence for their amazingly low point total.

Senior Ashley Robinson, a mainstay all season for the Vikings (19-6 heading into district play) and recipient of a scholarship next year to St. Joseph’s University, was visibly disappointed after monopolizing the boards. In addition to her game-high 14 points, Robinson seized 18 rebounds.

“I’m disappointed because I thought we would win,” said Robinson. “It’s been a great year and it isn’t over, but we worked really hard to put ourselves in a position to win the Catholic League championship. That was our number-one goal.”

John Knebels can be reached at jknebs@aol.com.