Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) &
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Sacred Heart head coach Zach Shuler wasn’t sure what he had heading into the season. His program at the small all-girls school in Bryn Mawr had just 13 girls total, the result of a graduating six-girl senior class from the year before and a few others focusing on other extracurriculars.
Because of that, and because of how young the team was, the Lions elected to sit out the AACA schedule for the second straight season, planning to rejoin the Catholic Academies next year. And yet, they find themselves alive in the PIAA Class 2A quarterfinals, with a game against District 6 champion Homer Center on Friday night, 6 PM at Mifflin County High School, almost directly in the middle of the state.
MJ Donohue (above) and Sacred Heart are in the PIAA 2A quarterfinals. (Photo courtesy Aly Albanese/Sacred Heart)
“Going into the season, I’m always optimistic, I’m excited for a new challenge, and as a coach you’re looking for how you can put the pieces together,” Shuler said. “I did not know what to expect, I just wanted our girls to go out, play hard and compete, and then build their confidence as the season went along. That was kind of my game plan…you know what, let’s just build their confidence up, get those fundamentals down, get their skills down.”
The first half of the state quarterfinals take place Friday night, with games in the boys’ 1A, 4A and 5A classes as well as the girls’ 2A, 3A and 6A classes. There aren’t any more local girls’ 3A teams in the mix, but still plenty of contenders in the other five brackets.
Sacred Heart might not be the favorites in the girls’ 2A bracket, considering the District 1 runner-ups are in the mix with five district champions left in the bracket, including the Faith Christian squad that beat them for their district title a couple weeks back.
But they have some young talent they’re really excited about in 6-0 sophomore forward Keara McCaffrey, whose mother Stephanie (Graff) McCaffrey starred at St. Joe’s and is in the Big 5 Hall of Fame; Keara McCaffrey is averaging 13 points, 12 rebounds and 3 blocks per game. They also rely on sophomore guard M.J. Donohue (5-5), junior wing Maya Walker (5-8), sophomore Grace Brown and freshman Megan Donahoe (5-2), who’s jumped right into a starting role.
The Lions advanced in exciting fashion on Tuesday night, Donahoe knocking down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to deliver a 42-40 win, after Line Mountain missed a foul shot in the final 10 seconds.
“Keara was able to secure the rebound, made a nice outlet to Maya and she found Megan for the game-winning 3,” Shuler said. “Even though she’s only a freshman, she’s fearless, and is always ready to take the big shots when we need it. I knew if we could get the ball up to her, we could get a good look. I didn’t want to say anything to her, tipping off their defenders in the back, I let it play out — we had a timeout left, but I trusted our players could make a play.”
The Wildcats of Homer Center (22-7) feature a tough 1-2 punch in seniors Macy Sardone and Molly Kosmack, who combine for more than 30 points per game. Sardone, a 5-7 guard, averages more than 19 ppg, while Kosmack, a 6-0 forward, averages 13 points and nearly 14 rebounds per outing; slowing down those two will be the first task for Shuler’s group.
“We’ve been going against teams that have been senior-laden teams, this is a team that’s very experienced, we’re going to have to be at our best,” he said. “Last night we were not at our best, we just hung around, hung around, and we ended up getting the last shot. We can’t start off slow against Homer Center and expect the same results.”
Here’s a look at the other eight games involving local teams which will take place Friday evening:
Brooke Wilson (above) and Archbishop Carroll play Abington on Friday night. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
(12-3) Archbishop Carroll (13-11) vs. (1-9) Abington (23-5)
Bensalem High School, 5:30 PM
The Carroll girls pulled off a major win on Tuesday night, knocking off District 1 champs Perkiomen Valley 41-38 in overtime, with junior guard Olivia Nardi knocking down the game-winner in the final 30 seconds. The Patriots are led by senior forward Taylor Wilson (6-0) and junior guard Brooke Wilson (5-9), the two combining for 28 points in the second round, while senior guards Courtland Schumacher and Meg Sheridan plus freshman Alexis Eberz round out the rest of the rotation.
The matchup of Taylor Wilson, a West Point commit, and Abington’s 6-0 forward Cire Worley (UMass-Lowell), will be one to watch, the two versatile posts both capable of playing with the ball in their hands and creating out of the high post, and both can knock down 3-pointers if left open from beyond the arc. The rest of the Ghosts lineup are ball-handling guards,, whether that’s senior Abril Bowser, juniors Piper McGliney and Jordyn Reynolds or sophomore Maya Johnson, none of whom are taller than 5-7 but all of whom can get hot from deep.
(12-1) Cardinal O’Hara (22-5) vs. (3-1) Central York (25-4)
Reading High School, 6:00 PM
The defending PIAA Class 5A champs, O’Hara’s adjusted well to the step up into the state’s large-school bracket, beating Spring-Ford 42-39 in the second round to move three games away from a repeat of sorts. Junior guard Joanie Quinn continued her breakout season with a game-high 17 points in the win over the Rams, while star sophomore Molly Rullo added 12; those two are the biggest keys on any scouting report for beating the Lions, but teams also will have to account for junior forward Carly Coleman, freshman point guard Megan Rullo — Molly’s sister — and others, not to mention figuring out Chrissie Doogan’s defensive schemes.
That’ll be the challenge for the District 3 champs, who beat one of the state favorites, Easton, 64-46 in the second round behind 16 points from senior guard Bella Chimienti, a Shippensburg commit, and 13 from freshman Alivia McCaskell. The Panthers also feature senior forward Mackenzie Wright-Rawls, a 6-0 double-double threat and NJIT commit who had 15 points and 10 rebounds in beating Souderton in the opening round of the state tournament.
(1-1) Radnor (29-0) vs. (12-2) Archbishop Ryan (16-10)
Bensalem High School, 7:15 PM
It was back in December at the John Mosco Classic that Radnor made its first loud statement of the 2022-23 season, pulling away from Ryan in the second half for a 57-42 win at Archbishop Wood behind 24 points from Jackson Hicke and 13 more from Charlie Thornton. At the time, it seemed like a bit of an upset, the Central League squad toppling one of the best teams in the Catholic League, but there’s no doubt the Raptors have proven they can hang with anyone around. Hicke and Thornton are just two pieces of the puzzle; Cooper Mueller has had a big postseason, as has point guard Danny Rosenblum, and junior wing Henry Pierce is hitting shots as well.
Things will be tougher for Ryan in the rematch, without starting guard Rocco Morabito and reserve Christian Durham, the two juniors out due to PIAA transfer regulations. Radnor did a good job the first time of limiting the effectiveness of high-major Division I target Thomas Sorber, holding the junior forward to 12 points, while senior guard Michael Zaire Paris had 17. Ryan needs to get Sorber going inside and have shot-making from Darren Williams and Ryan Everett to reverse December’s output, while figuring out a way to slow down a Radnor attack that no one’s been able to hold back for longer than a few minutes at a time.
(12-1) Imhotep (27-3) vs. (2-1) Abington Heights (23-4)
Easton MS, 7 PM
The defending PIAA 5A champs, Imhotep hasn’t been challenged yet, beating Holy Ghost by 52 in their opening round and then Muhlenberg by 36 in the second; now it’ll be the District 2 champs, Abington Heights, who will take their best shot. The Comets, who beat Pocono Mt. West 61-56 in the second round, get balanced scoring from juniors Mason Fedor (6-4), Ryan Nealon (6-1) and Will Marion (6-1) plus sophomore Rob Lucas (6-2), all of them averaging in double figures this season; they've played all year without senior guard Matt Show, who hurt his knee in the second game of the season. But a roster without much size is likely going to have some serious issues with the nation’s number one player, McDonald’s All-American Justin Edwards (6-7), not to mention junior forward Ma’Kye Taylor (6-7), while guards Yahmir Satterfield (6-3), Ahmad Nowell (6-2) and Rahmir Barno (6-1) are all terrific. Abington Heights is the best team Imhotep’s faced yet this postseason, but it shouldn’t make much of a difference on the final score.
(12-1) Neumann-Goretti (24-3) vs. (1-1) Bishop Shanahan (11-15)
Pottstown HS, 7 PM
The Shanahan boys entered the state playoff bracket with a record of just 9-15, but beat Audenried in the opening and then took out District 2 champs Scranton Prep 69-57 in the second round, certainly a nice feather in the cap for John Dougherty and crew, who now have to face one of the state’s powerhouses in Neumann-Goretti. The Saints just walloped Bethlehem Catholic 74-49 in the second round after dismantling Middletown 87-42 in the opener, as the defending state champs have their eyes on another Hershey appearance next weekend, even as they’re not at full strength.
Carl Arrigale’s squad is paced by junior guard Robert Wright III, the newly-named Gatorade Player of the Year in Pennsylvania, a 6-0 Baylor commit who can do just about everything with the ball in his hands. They’ve been without his backcourt mate, Khaafiq Myers (ankle), but haven’t really missed a step thanks to 6-8 senior Sultan Adewale, 6-6 junior Amir Williams and freshman guard Stephon Ashley-Wright, all Division I recruits, plus senior guard Bruce Smith, a 6-2 combo guard with D-II/D-III looks. The Eagles are led by a pair of senior guards, Ben Rodner-Tims and Charley Fedrico, plus junior forward Kevin Scaggs and senior guard Roman Alexander, though it’s Rodner-Tims who’s had some big-time scoring performances this season. But the cards are stacked against Shanahan this round, and they’re well aware.
(1-1) Faith Christian (21-6) vs. (2-1) Montrose (22-4)
Wyoming Area HS, 7 PM
Senior Merrimack commit Bella Forker piled up 17 points and 14 points and was a defensive stalwart as well in the Crusaders’ 35-28 win over District 4 champion Williamsport, tha coming after a 45-7 romp over Belmont Charter in the opening round. Faith Christian advanced to the PIAA Class 1A quarters a season ago and hopes to take its state playoff trip at least a round further in 2023. Forker is flanked by all-league players Mikayla Hissner and Kendall Garber. Classmates Ava Lopes and Maddee Huber are also part of a senior class that already has the most wins in program history.
Coach Dave Forker’s squad will play District 2 champion Montrose — a 46-28 first-round winner over 4-3 Northwest, which squeaked out a 49-47 win over Marian Catholic to make it to Friday’s quarterfinals. The Meteors, who last appeared in a state bracket in 2014 and made it to the state semifinals in 2012 are led by senior twins Mia Snyder and Mya Snyder and senior forward Hayley Pompey, and also have six underclassmen on the roster.
(1-2) Phil-Mont Christian (20-9) vs. (5-1) Berlin Brothersvalley (24-2)
Mechanicsburg Area HS, 7:00 PM
Phil-Mont made one previous trip to the PIAA quarters in 2016 and is back again seven years later. The District 1 runner-ups rallied from behind against District 3 runner-up Greenwood in their opener before senior Washington College commit Jack Swider poured in 28 points on Tuesday night in a 57-46 second-round win over District 3-5 Mount Calvary Christian. Sophomore 6-5 forward Kendall Bratten is another who looks like a future college-level talent, with lots of length up front. Sophomore guard Jameer Zachary and junior guard Peter Haviland are 3-point threats, while seniors Ewan Chi and Julian Ray provide are leaders in the backcourt.
Like Phil-Mont, Berlin Brothersvalley was a one-and-done in states last season, but it made its way to the PIAA title game back in 2021. The Mountaineers eased past District 3-6 Saint Joseph's Academy (74-33) and 3-4 LaAcademia (74-63) in the first two rounds and now stand in Phil-Mont’s way of the semis. Berlin Brothersvalley has three lethal scoring in 6-foot-1 junior Pace Prosser (23.8 ppg), 6-foot junior Craig Jarvis (19.6 ppg) and 6-foot senior Ryan Blubaugh (17.6 ppg). They can all hit from deep with Prosser and Jarvis the two biggest long ball threats.
(1-1) Chester Charter (21-5) vs. (3-1) Linville Hill (23-0)
Avon Grove HS, 7:00 PM
Linville Hill’s undefeated season almost came to an end at the hands of District 12 upstart The City School in the second round, but the Warriors closed the last eight points of the game to advance to play the District 1 champs. Linville Hill is led by 6-3 senior Daniel King, one of seven seniors on the roster, who had 19 points in the second-round win; sophomore forward Stephen Smucker (6-1) joined him in double figures with 13, while senior guard Matt Lapp (6-1) hit some big shots down the stretch.
Chester Charter is led by the ‘wonder twins, senior guards Kevin Miller and Jayden Williams, who earned that moniker as freshmen when the Sabers won the district championship in 2020, the two 5-10 guards leading the way their whole high school careers. Senior forward Azarhis Smith (6-6) mans the paint for head coach Dan Spangler, while 6-4 senior Samaad Powell and several others 6-4 and taller mean the Sabres have a significant size advantage.
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