It was a physical game that gave players bloody noses and left rib cages sore.
Nothing came easy. Nothing in the second half was particularly pretty. And while Cardinal O’Hara returns to the State Catholic championships, Mount Mercy made it earn every inch of its trip to New York City.
The Hawks held on for a 59-52 win over Mount Mercy in front of a packed house at Daemen College Saturday afternoon. The victory gave O’Hara another Class A Monsignor Martin Association title.
They have the bruises to prove it.
“This was the most physical game,” O’Hara coach Nick O’Niel said. “For them not to be big, they are so physical and they play so hard. We really had to come up with different ways to try and score and be aggressive because they’re very aggressive. Our team has been going through it this year, keeping composure and getting fouled hard. They find ways to win, and good teams, whatever they do, they find a way to win games. That’s what this team did.”
O’Hara (21-3) used its strong inside game to establish an early 8-0 lead. While the Hawks led wire to wire, it wasn’t nearly that simple.
O’Hara led, 14-6, after the first quarter and extended that to 25-16 at the half. Junior forward Summer Hemphill scored nine in the opening half, leading the balanced O’Hara attack.
But Mount Mercy changed its look in the second. The Magic denied entry into the post and O’Hara no longer could find easy buckets in the paint.
Mount Mercy turned defense into transition points and with a relentlessly aggressive attack of the rim, kept earning trips to the free throw line.
Early in the third quarter the lead was sliced to 25-21 when Courtney Kaczor turned a steal into a layup, but O’Hara started hitting from outside, using three-pointers from Elizabeth Edwards, Cierra Harrison and Corean Dickson to create some scoreboard space.
Mercy wasn’t going away.
They kept attacking in the fourth and Emily Sheehan kept sinking free throws. A three-pointer from Kaczor brought it back to a two-point game and Oliva Balys cut it to one, 47-46, after hitting one of two from the foul line with 3:57 left.
That’s when sophomore Anndea Zeigler took over. She hit a three-pointer, then a jumper to extend O’Hara’s lead to 52-46. Zeigler, the Class A Most Valuable Player, finished with 19 points.
“You can’t really practice a clutch game,” Ziegler said. “You just have to play your hardest and do every little, small thing. The IQ things. … We have to prove to people that we’re the best team. Just practice hard and show them who we are.”
Sheehan was impressive in transition for Mount Mercy (21-4), and the senior led all scorers with 28 points. She was a member of the Class A All-Catholic team along with Hemphill, Emily Miller (Christian Central), Kathleen Ryan (Sacred Heart) and Sarah Young (Sacred Heart).