Early-game struggles were the norm in the Monsignor Martin Class A girls basketball semifinals Tuesday evening. But once Cardinal O’Hara and Sacred Heart worked out the kinks, boy, did they get rolling.
O’Hara, The News’ top large school all season, topped Mount Mercy, 71-24, while Sacred Heart earned a 53-40 victory over Nichols in the nightcap at Villa Maria College.
The Hawks (23-2) and Sharks (18-7) will meet for the Class A title on Sunday at Villa Maria at 4 p.m. Regardless of the outcome, state Catholic rules will force O’Hara to compete against Class AA schools at states because it finished first in the Monsignor Martin during the regular season. That means the Sharks will automatically be Western New York’s Class A representative.
Even with that already being sorted out, don’t expect either squad to come out with any less intensity.
“They are tough. We’ve seen them twice,” Sacred Heart coach Debbie Laux said. “O’Hara has sort of been our nemesis the last couple years, so we’re going to go out and play a hard game against them and hope for a favorable outcome.”
Seniors Sarah Young and Mary Rose Gaulin each scored 12 points and sophomore Micaela Ryan had 10, including three three-pointers, for the Sharks on Tuesday. Young, a St. Bonaventure commit, also grabbed 17 rebounds.
Those balanced contributions helped Sacred Heart build up a 33-16 halftime lead and avenge a Feb. 22 loss to the Vikings.
“Everybody was a little bit nervous, especially coming off a loss to them,” Laux said. “We worked hard in practice all week, tried to iron some things out and made a few adjustments to our high-low game, so we adjusted to that. Micaela Ryan and Sarah Young did a great job on their post players.”
Nichols, which was led by Imani Dockery’s 13 points and Lindsay Hogan’s 11, pulled to within single digits twice midway through the fourth quarter but weren’t able to get any closer than eight.
Even though O’Hara’s offense struggled early in the first game of the doubleheader, its defense held Mount Mercy without a bucket until Olivia Balys (team-high 12 points) scored with three minutes left in the first quarter.
The second quarter got off to a sloppy start with neither team scoring until O’Hara’s Shilah Parker made a runner in the lane with 4:10 to go. Leah McQuiller scored all six of her points in the second to keep Mount Mercy within 11, 25-14, at halftime.
The Hawks came out a totally different team in the second half. A fierce full-court press that helped them force 31 total steals sparked a 46-10 run the rest of the way.
“The coaches didn’t say anything at halftime,” O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil said. “We let them talk. The leaders of the team stepped up and said that was embarrassing.”
One of those leaders, Summer Hemphill, scored 11 of her game-high 19 points in the second half. The UB-bound senior also pulled down 14 rebounds, blocked three shots and had five steals.
“I think that Summer is the player of the year,” O’Neil said. “I know other coaches advocate for their kids, but we have won 55 games in a row against local competition, and Summer is undefeated in that run. I don’t know how many teams can say that.”
Senior Lizzy Edwards had 12 points for O’Hara, all on three-pointers.