The best team in Western New York won't be taking its act to New York City next weekend, but it wasn't because Sacred Heart was in over its head during the final audition.
On the contrary, the News' No. 1 Large School proved to be a very formidable opponent for an Archbishop Molloy crew that plays in the same New York City Catholic league as national power Christ The King.
But Molloy made a key defensive switch in the second half that made the Sharks downright uncomfortable. Molloy also managed to hit its three-point shots when it mattered most to make sure Sacred Heart's off-Broadway production didn't get a chance to perform before the downstate masses. Molloy (19-9) captured Saturday afternoon's New York State Catholic Class A semifinal, 55-45, before an estimated 350 in the Koessler Center.
The Sharks (23-3) carried a 29-25 lead into the third quarter following a scrappy first half in which their quickness and persistence frustrated their taller counterparts. But Molloy switched from a man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone that confounded Sacred Heart. The Sharks committed seven turnovers and made just six field goals in the final 16 minutes as their 23-game winning streak and season came to an end.
"We were trying to get our weak side forward to go out to the corner to reverse it [the ball]. . . . Unfortunately we just didn't put it together in the second half," Sharks coach Sister Maria Pares said. "No regrets. I would have loved to have won this game for them. I would have loved them to go to New York. We just couldn't buy a basket."
The defensive switch led to a 5-0 run that enabled Molloy to take a 30-29 lead. The Sharks tied it on a free throw by Liz Subjeck with 6:11 left in the third quarter, but Katie Pastina's three-pointer 38 seconds later gave Molloy the lead for good.
Molloy lives and dies by the three, according to coach Marty Towey. Although Molloy almost died by the trey Saturday, most of the six it made came from diminutive junior Irene Rynasewycz (16 points) and quelled Sacred Heart momentum. She repelled the Sharks with four treys, canning a wide-open three from the left corner 1:45 into the fourth that gave Molloy a 43-37 lead. She made six in a January win in which Molloy drained a school-record 18 treys.
Sacred Heart entered the fourth trailing, 38-37, thanks to a three-pointer by Elyse Monte (16 points), which came off a nice screen by fellow senior Neddie King. But the Sharks' inability to adjust to the zone neutralized Monte. The Sharks' leading scorer attempted eight field goals in the second half, half of those in the final two minutes with Molloy leading by four or more points.
Still, Monte's hustle and tenacity sparked a late rally in which the Sharks pulled within 45-43 with 2:39 left. She made a steal near halfcourt and dished to Katie Keller for a layup. But Molloy's Kerri White, who went 10 for 10 at the line en route to a game-high 18 points, made six free throws down the stretch to ice the game.
"It was a dogfight," Towey said. "They're the best Buffalo has to offer. We're playing on a strange court. You have to beat them outright."