By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Great basketball teams have a way of separating themselves from the pack.

It’s not only having the consistent ability of orchestrating sudden bursts of scoring that turns a tenuous edge into a suddenly comfortable double-digit lead. It’s taking care of the ball and waiting patiently for high percentage shots. It’s boxing out for key rebounds, playing stingy defense and then, with the victory still not quite clinched, converting free throws down the stretch.

On Monday night at the Palestra, Archbishop Carroll’s girls’ team captured the Catholic League championship over formidable opponent Archbishop Wood, 51-37, by executing each of those aforementioned ideals.

“It was a team effort,” said Carroll coach Chuck Creighton. “I’m really proud of how they played.”

While winning their second straight crown, third in four years and sixth in the last 11, Carroll earned a date with Prep Charter at 6 p.m. Friday at Lincoln High for the District 12 championship as the Patriots attempt to defend the state championship they earned last year.

Any team attempting to dethrone Carroll (22-3) will encounter an arduous, arguably herculean, task. The Patriots have the countenance of a champion right now, and such confidence could translate into a distinct advantage in the coming weeks.

But that’s in the future. Presently, Carroll has a Catholic League championship to celebrate.

“This feels so great,” said St. Joseph’s University-bound Erin Shields, one of only two Carroll seniors, the other being teammate Mary Kate McCann. “We worked really hard for this.”

Shields was the team’s catalyst early. En route to a game-high 20 points, Shields drilled three three-point shots in the first quarter to help Carroll take an 11-6 lead. Her tenacious defense – imitated by her teammates throughout the contest – caused the Vikings fits.

Carroll forced 14 turnovers and caused the Vikings to take several off-balance shots. Despite the challenge, Wood senior Sam Greenfield managed 10 points.

“We pride ourselves on playing good defense,” said Shields, who midway through the first quarter became the eighth Carroll player to reach 1,000 career points, joining, among others, her older sister Sherri. “All of us understand how important that is.”

Leading 40-28 entering the fourth quarter, Carroll held the ball for as long as it could, which left the Vikings (20-5) no choice but to foul often.

Unfortunately for Wood, the Patriots converted 11 free throws in the final stanza; they didn’t even attempt a basket in that fourth quarter, yet still outscored the Vikings 11-9.

If there was a most valuable player award, Jen Carney would have received several votes. The junior forward contributed 16 points (8 of 10 from the foul line), five rebounds, five steals and three assists.

The play of Carney, sophomore Meghan Creighton (seven points, five rebounds) and Rachel Pearson (five points) helped soften the loss of junior Emily Fazzini, who was unable to play because of a sprained ankle.

Facing the adversity of a missing player by relying on others to pick up the slack.

Yet another quality that befits a great basketball team.

John Knebels can be reached at