Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
WARMINSTER — After rallying out of a nine-point hole to start the game, Archbishop Wood saw its hard work erased heading into halftime against Cardinal O’Hara on Tuesday.
The Lions’ buckets were coming easy.
When the Vikings returned from halftime, they made sure that was no longer the case.
A week after holding Archbishop Carroll scoreless in the second quarter of a win, Wood nearly did the same to the Lions. The Vikings allowed a single free throw in the third period to take control in a 47-37 win over the Lions, giving O’Hara its first blemish in conference play.
“Just to lock it in and mentality focus because we were letting things go,” junior guard Ava Renninger said of the halftime message. “We weren’t tough enough. We weren’t getting rebounds. We were letting them get easy shots, so in the third quarter we knew we just had to lock it down on defense better.”
Archbishop Wood's Ava Renninger makes a pass Tuesday against O'Hara. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Wood (12-3, 5-0 PCL) and O’Hara (12-3, 4-1) entered Tuesday’s game as two of the last three unbeaten teams in the Catholic League. Memories of two losses to the Lions last season, including one in the PCL semis, weren’t far from the Vikings’ minds as they took the court. Still, Wood found itself in multiple early holes.
Cardinal O’Hara reeled off the first nine points of the game. Wood answered with nine of its own and was up 12-11 at the end of the first quarter after an Emily Knouse three.
Lions sophomore Molly Rullo, who had six of her team-high 13 points in the first quarter, picked up her second foul 35 seconds into the second quarter. While she sat for the rest of the quarter, the Lions used an 8-0 run during the period to go up 26-19 at half on a jumper by Joanie Quinn (eight points).
Finnegan switched onto Quinn and held her scoreless in the second half. That’s no surprise as she’s developed a reputation as a black hole for whoever she covers (Read more on her defensive prowess here). Knouse covered Rullo, holding her in check until some tough makes in the fourth.
Finnegan said the Vikings recognized what the Lions were doing on offense, which was much different from what other teams have tried to run against them this season, and found a way to shut it down in the third. Wood outscored O’Hara 16-1 in the period to go ahead, 35-27.
“They were slipping a lot (in the first half),” Finnegan said. “They just were really good at finding open lanes and they were really good at slashing, and that’s something we kind of haven’t been used to. We’ve been used to players going 1-on-1. That was something that we recognized. It took a little while for us to catch on.”
Wood’s effectiveness on offense matched the defensive success in the period. Finnegan had eight in the quarter, knocking down a pair of threes.
“I’ve been working on my shooting a lot,” Finnegan said. “It’s been really important to me, and as a team we just know what a good shot is and what a bad shot is. Whenever I get a good shot on offense, I have just been feeling more confident on offense that I know that this is a good shot and to be able to shoot it and make it.”
Offensively, junior Alex Windish scored four in the third on drives to the hoops to ignite the Vikings as well. Senior Kara Meredith scored eight and Knouse added six. It’s a tough act to stop with all five weapons on the floor capable of going and getting a bucket at any time.
“This year we’re all together as a team,” Renninger said. “We’re not looking at one person to take all the shots, score all the points. We’re sharing the ball equally and the scoring is spread across the board in all the games.”
“It’s really hard to guard because if one person’s not having a day then you have four other players who can easily go score. If someone’s best defender’s locking down someone, then you have four other players who can go score.”
Archbishop Wood senior Delaney Finnegan dribbles the ball Tuesday against O'Hara. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Rullo finally broke free from Knouse’s clasps a few times in the fourth, hitting a tough two and a three as well as knocking down a pair of free throws. After Wood went up double digits for the first time — 42-32 with 2:40 to play — she scored five straight points to pull the Vikings within five.
O’Hara junior Greta Miller had a three that would have made it a one-possession game rattle out with less than two minutes to play. Even with some uneven free-throw shooting Wood looked down defensively in the final minutes of the game to lock up the victory.
“O’Hara’s one of our biggest rivals every year,” Renninger said. “And we wanted to get this one because last year they beat us in the semifinals and in the regular season, so we wanted to get a win against them.”
The Vikings have won nine of their 10 games to start 2023 with the lone loss coming to Long Island Luthern (N.Y.), the top-ranked girls basketball team in the country.
The PCL looks like a four team race — maybe five if a dangerous young Neumann-Goretti squad can continue playing good ball and pull off an upset.
Already having disposed of Carroll, taking down O’Hara in decisive fashion was another key step. The Vikings won’t match up with LC until the second-to-last game of the regular season Feb. 7.
“We really want this to be our year, so this was a big step for us,” Finnegan said.
A big week for O’Hara continues Thursday with a PCL title-game rematch with Carroll.
Cardinal O’Hara: 11 | 15 | 1 | 10 || 37
Archbishop Wood: 12 | 7 | 16 | 12 || 47
Cardinal O’Hara: Molly Rullo 13, Joanie Quinn 8, Greta Miller 5, Natalie DiBlasi 4, Carly Coleman 3, Megan Rullo 3, Bridget Dawson 1
Archbishop Wood: Delaney Finnegan 13, Ava Renninger 10, Kara Meredith 8, Emily Knouse 6, Alexa Windish 6, Deja Evans 3