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Cardinal O'Hara girls rally to defeat defending state champs in overtime

Conventional wisdom suggests if Cardinal O’Hara couldn’t take down the defending state champions with star senior guard Anndea Zeigler in the lineup, it shouldn’t have been able to defeat powerful Jamesville-DeWitt without her.

A big finish by the News’ No. 1 Large School girls basketball team provides the latest example as to why they play the games.

Cierra Harrison’s buzzer-beating three-pointer capped a stunning final-seconds comeback by O’Hara, which fed off the energy from that big shot during the four-minute overtime period to pull away from the visiting Rams, 66-57.

Harrison was one of eight Hawks to score as they relied on an intense pressure defense and a never-give-up attitude to win their fourth game in as many starts without Zeigler, a two-time All-WNY first team selection and Canisius College commit who is out with a thumb injury

Saturday’s win, though, could be considered the most impressive since the state’s third-ranked Class AA team had seemingly run out of gas only to find that extra gear needed to beat a team of J-D’s pedigree.

“All of us are trying to work together to make up for what she does for the team,” senior guard Angel Parker said of Zeigler.

That includes Harrison, a quiet girl who lets her actions on the court do the talking. Her buzzer-beater proved to be more effective than any rah-rah speech.

“After she made that shot our energy was up,” said Parker, who finished with five assists and four steals. “We were ready to take them out.”

The Rams (9-5) are ranked fifth in the state Class A poll and their losses have all come against state-ranked teams – including three in the top 10 of Class AA. They also have four returning starters from last year and at least three who played in the state final loss to Williamsville South two years ago.

That didn’t matter against the three-time defending Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association champions, who will have plenty of momentum heading into next week’s schedule, which includes a trip to the Big Apple to face state No. 2 Christ the King on Saturday and a Sunday contest against No. 21 Mary Louis Academy. Both games are part of the New York City Mecca Invitational.

Harrison’s trey capped a Hawks rally in which they overcame a five-point deficit during the final 19 seconds. Giorgia Maniero hit a three with 9.9 seconds left to pull O’Hara within 52-50. After a Julia Kelner free throw made it a three-point game, Harrison hit a 21-footer from straight away that found nothing but net, sparking a wild celebration even though there was still plenty of game left.

In the extra session, the Hawks scored eight of the first 11 points to seize control with a layup by Kiara Johnson off an Angel Parker drive and dish opening the scoring. The 5-foot-5 Parker all but sealed the win for O'Hara, beating two big players for a rebound in the paint and converting a traditional three-point play. She then stole the ensuing inbounds pass, leading to a pair of free throws by older sister Shilah with 42.9 seconds left.

“That was one of the better high school girls games I’ve been a part of during my coaching career,” said fourth-year O’Hara coach Nick O’Neil, who has been with the program for seven. “It was a fun game to coach. It had ups and downs and the kids we needed to hit shots to boost their confidence up (did so).

“Amazing game. We played them earlier and the game kind of went the same way except they pulled away at the end.”

Corean Dickson led the winners with 15 points, while Johnson finished with 13 and 10 rebounds. Harrison scored nine points.

O’Hara (14-2), which has just one player over 5-foot-10, used its pressure defense and scrappiness against a taller J-D crew to force 20 turnovers, including 14 steals. The Hawks’ Shilah Parker and Nickelle O’Neil had four steals each.

O’Hara led, 24-18, at halftime and stretched it to 10 early in the third quarter. The Rams, rallied behind Meg Hair and Jamie Boeheim. Boeheim scored 11 of her game-high 19 points during the third and fourth quarters. Hair scored all but four of her 16 after halftime.

J-D led, 46-40, with 3:34 left, but O’Hara tied the game at 47-47 on Dickson’s three-pointer nearly two minutes later. It stayed that way until the 6-2 Kelner scored on a layup with 45 seconds to give the Rams the lead.

That basket started a wild conclusion to regulation in which the teams combined for 12 points – opening the door for a big finish by the Hawks without their best player.

So what happens when Zeigler returns to the lineup?

“I think we’re going to be a tough out,” O’Neil said.

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