Girls basketball review

By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

When you are the defending state champion, every team comes at you with an advantage.

After all, beating the best immediately puts a team on the map, so the incentive factor goes to the underdog.

Archbishop Carroll’s girls understand all of that first hand. After seizing the PIAA Class AAA state title last year, the Patriots made Catholic League history by becoming the first Catholic League team to achieve such a lofty goal. Right around the same time, Carroll’s male counterparts reeled off their own post-season excellence.

It marked only the seventh time in history that both state basketball champions came from the same school. Making it even more amazing is that the Catholic League was in its first year of PIAA competition.

“It was something we’ll never forget,” said senior captain standout Erin Shields. “The whole school was so excited, and this year they have been great.”

However, Shields and company have understood since the first practice that it is time to put last year and its surreal memories in an emotional scrapbook tucked away for future perusal. And if you ask the Patriots, that hasn’t been too difficult.

That actually isn’t surprising because Archbishop Carroll has come to expect victories. With five Catholic League championships this past decade, Carroll has overtaken Cardinal O’Hara as the marquee program in the Catholic League.

That’s not to take anything away from O’Hara. But five league titles and a state championship poses as a formidable resume.

So what now?

“The team is focused,” said Carroll coach Chuck Creighton. “I’m proud of the way they have handled everything.”

The early-season game of the year between Carroll and visiting Archbishop Wood Jan. 7 had all the feel of a Catholic League championship preview. Wood, which on Jan. 14 would stun Cardinal O’Hara by a lopsided 54-34 win behind Samantha Greenfield’s 14 points and Christine Verrelle’s 13, was clearly a team that expected to defeat the defending state champs.

It almost happened, too. But with Carroll leading 27-23 after three quarters, the Patriots took control in the fourth. When it was over, 10 points, seven rebounds and tenacious defense from Emily Fazzini; eight points from Shields; seven points, five rebounds and two steals from Meghan Creighton; and an all-around performance by Jen Carney kept the Patriots undefeated in league play.

Archbishop Wood, which connected on only 8 of 16 free throws (Carroll hit 3 of 6), was held to 9 for 35 shooting, while the Patriots shot 15 for 33.

“I was really looking forward to this game,” said Carney, who battled through an early injury and persevered when the Pats needed her most. “Wood is a very good team. But we held our composure.”

Creighton agreed.

“Wood is an excellent team,” he said. “They are very well coached, and they always hustle.”

Wood was disappointed in the loss. But with a roster that goes eight deep, the Vikings figure to bounce back. So, too, will Cardinal O’Hara, whose 6-5 record is partially explained by several injuries that have prevented the Lions from assembling what on paper is a fearsome lineup.

While several teams are off to a great start and some are teetering around the .500 mark, others are struggling in the win-loss department. The one common denominator among all those teams is that each has enjoyed its share of highlights along the way.

Cardinal Dougherty is in its last year, but the Cardinals are trying to make their swan song memorable.

So far so good.

At 8-2 overall, the Cardinals are probably a playoff team. Considering how young Dougherty’s nucleus is, coach Mary McDonald has done an outstanding job of making sure that her team isn’t simply going through the motions knowing that the end is near.

As for who leads the way, it depends on the game. In a big win Jan. 8 over Prendergast, Shanice Johnson contributed 15 points and 14 rebounds, Brenna Coll added 13 points, Mo Hawkins collected eight points and five assists, and the Cards nailed 21 of 32 free throws. One week later, the Cards only trailed 45-38 after three quarters before dropping a 64-47 decision to favored Archbishop Ryan. Michelle Boggs scored 18 points while Brenna Coll added 10.

In Kennedy-Kenrick’s 42-37 win over West Catholic Jan. 14, the Wolverines shot 20 of 29 from the free-throw line. Angela Sortino’s 13 points led all scorers; teammates Jenna Bergen and Dana McCabe each added nine to help offset 10 points by West’s Destiny Russell.

The next day, West Catholic rebounded to defeat non-league opponent MaST Charter 48-28 and severed a nine-game slide. Significant contributions came from Johanna Riddick (12 points), Liana Taylor (16 rebounds) and Skylar Burton (13 rebounds, 6 blocks).

Early in the season, Bishop McDevitt outlasted John W. Hallahan 45-32, as Nicole Piluso scored 14 points to go along with 11 from teammates Asha Davis and Chelsea Burroughs. Shannon Mack scored 11 for Hallahan.

Less than a month later, Hallahan gained revenge when it edged McDevitt 55-53 for its first victory of the season. This time, Mack scored 17 points, but it was the heroics of two teammates down the stretch that sealed the triumph. All of Danielle Trout’s six points came on two three-point shots inside the game’s final two minutes, and two of Melissa Donao’s eight points occurred from the free-throw line with 15 seconds remaining in regulation. The loss sullied the efforts of McDevitt’s Davis (13 points) and Mary Templeton (12).

A similarly close contest on Jan. 12 saw Prendie defeat upset-minded Conwell-Egan 38-35. Jessica Rotella’s 14 points led the Pandas.

Archbishop Ryan has had several strong outings, but never one more balanced than a 64-47 win Jan. 15 over Cardinal Dougherty in which four players scored in double digits. La Salle University-bound Jess Koci netted 20 points while Sarah Strybuc added 17, Lauren Smith, 14, and Brittany Wood, 10, as the Ragdolls raised their record to 6-1 in league play.

After a slow start, Conwell-Egan has won five of its last six, including a 55-43 win Jan. 15 over Neumann-Goretti. As inspanidual performances go, none were more impressive than Kristen Ralph’s in the aforementioned loss to Prendergast. Despite the defeat, fans were treated to a torrid display by Ralph, whose final numbers included 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.

At St. Hubert’s on Jan. 12, four players did all the scoring in a 57-46 win over West Catholic. Megan Decker (20 points), Ashley Bieringer (15), Kacy Peyton (12), and A.J. Chobot (10) helped the Bambies recover from an early 18-15 deficit. For West, Riddick scored 13 points, Burton tallied 12, and Russell added 11.

Lansdale Catholic is 6-7, with three of those wins in league play. On Dec. 18, the Crusaders held host Conwell-Egan to single digits in each of the first three quarters en route to an impressive 55-34 win. Shea Wassel scored 21 points and grabbed 10 rebounds; Jackie McCarron added 10 points. For Conwell-Egan, Kaitlyn Mourer scored 16 points.

John Knebels can be reached at