By John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Basketball doesn’t sell tickets because spectators enjoy watching defense.

But as just about any veteran coach will preach, playing defense might not be pretty, but it is the key ingredient to winning.

The girls’ basketball team from Archbishop Wood High School in Warminster concurs.

Although they endured longer-than-comfortable streaks of inept shooting and were unable to separate themselves from their opponent, the Vikings defeated Indiana Area High School 49-39 in the PIAA Class AAA state championship March 27 at Penn State University’s Bryce Jordan Center.

“We have a lot of pride in how we play,” said point guard Sam Greenfield, the lone senior on the team. “If you want to be considered a very good team, you have to play both ends of the floor.”

Considering that Wood forced 23 turnovers, the Vikings did exactly that.

Wood finished 26-5 and became the second Catholic League girls’ team to capture the AAA crown; Archbishop Carroll did likewise last year in what was the Catholic League’s first-ever exposure to PIAA hoops.

Now that Wood has imitated its league adversary, the rest of the PIAA might want to vote the Catholic League out of the equation for the near future.

When considering that Wood returns all but one major player and that Carroll is still loaded, whoever engraves those handsome trophies that are presented on the court to the winning coaches and players might become tired of chiseling names of Catholic League affiliates. Even the boys AAA spanision is covered, as Carroll won last year, and Neumann-Goretti captured this year’s title the night before Wood’s.

“We want this to keep happening,” said junior swingman Christine Verrelle, who scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. “It’s great for the league that Carroll and us won back to back.”

Wood has lost to Carroll in consecutive Catholic League finals and dropped a pair of games to the Patriots this year, so when they faced Carroll in the quarterfinals, the word “underdog” immediately reared its annoying head.

There’s only one way to stop being considered an underdog.

“We were just happy to have another chance to beat them,” said Verrelle. “They’re a great team, but they had our number. We hadn’t beaten them since 1990, and we were reminded about that a few times.”

They won’t be anymore.

After the Vikings shocked the defending state champs 35-31, they reacted as though they had already won the state crown. And in some ways, maybe they had.

“They’re probably the best team in the area,” said Wood coach Jim Ricci, who was lauded by several Vikings for his ability to find the right buttons to push when his players needed some prodding. “That was quite an accomplishment.”

After defeating Villa Maria Academy of Malvern in the semifinals, the Vikings recognized their golden opportunity.

But then they fell behind 15-7, and their offense began to produce nothing but silence.

So what is a team to do when it can’t score? Play defense. A lot of defense.

“That’s exactly why we weren’t too worried even though we were losing,” said Verrelle. “All year long, when our offense has taken a long time to get on track, our coaches tell us all the time to just keep playing hard on defense, and everything will take care of itself.”

A 10-2 run in the second quarter orchestrated mostly by in-your-face defense of the starting five and an offensive spark by both Verrelle and Stephanie Keyes (11 points) tied the game, and after seven lead changes in the third quarter, Verrelle nailed a huge three-pointer to give Wood a 36-33 lead. The Vikings then put the game away with six more unanswered points, and all that was left was awaiting the sound of the final horn.

For Archbishop Wood, the Philadelphia Orchestra could not have created a more melodic sound.

Ryan falls in state championship game
After finishing the regular season 11-2 and tying Cardinal O’Hara for third place in the Catholic League, Archbishop Ryan battled their way through the state playoffs to reserve a spot in AAAA championship. The Ragdolls, who defeated Great Valley, Liberty, Council Rock North and Red Lion high schools along the way, ultimately fell to Mount Lebanon High School 70-43 March 26 at the Bryce Jordan Center.