Nardin has been a thorn in Sacred Heart’s side all year, accounting for two of the Sharks’ five losses coming into Sunday’s Monsignor Martin Association semifinal.
After Sunday’s result, Nardin’s thorn will be stuck in the Sharks’ side the rest of the year.
In front of a standing-only crowd at Daemen College, Nardin beat Sacred Heart, 61-59, to advance to the Monsignor Martin playoff finals, where it will play Cardinal O’Hara for the Class A title, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Canisius College.
“When we first beat them it was a total upset because we haven’t beaten them in many, many years,” junior Alyssa Lesakowski said. “So beating them three times is crazy.”
Sacred Heart had its chances to move past the two one-point losses Nardin handed them this year and head to the playoff finals for the fifth consecutive year. Up by 49-40 with more than six minutes to play, Sacred Heart’s lead seemed secure, but Nardin never wavered.
The Gators chipped away at the lead with free throws and clutch three-pointers, one by Anne O’Brien that tied the game at 52 with three minutes left. A half minute later, Hannah Juhasz’ drive through the lane gave Nardin its first lead of the game at 54-52. The Gators never trailed again.
“We thought we took their best shot in the first half and we were only a point down,” Nardin coach Joe Dougherty said. “In the second half, our seniors played like seniors.”
O’Brien, a senior, scored nine of her 17 points in the second half to lead the way for the Gators, with Lesakowski scoring 12, including 7 of 8 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. For the game Nardin shot 19 for 28 from the line.
Sacred Heart (15-6) was led by Chelsea Smith (14 points), Sarah Young (13 points) and Awilda Murphy (17 points).
As impressive as it is to beat Sacred Heart three times in one year, beating Cardinal O’Hara on Saturday would be even better. O’Hara is the top-ranked girls basketball team in Western New York and has won back-to-back state Catholic titles.
O’Hara’s 73-62 win over Mount Saint Mary was highlighted by Kelsey McCarthy’s 1,000th point. Other than that milestone, it was just another easy win for the Hawks, who led by 30 heading into the third quarter.
For all of O’Hara’s recent achievements, though, the Hawks will look to win their first Monsignor Martin title since 1971.
“Unless we accomplish that there’s no satisfaction with anything else that happened this season,” O’Hara coach Dan McDermott said.
O’Hara (22-3) was led by Jontay Walton’s 23 points, while Mount Saint Mary was paced by Meighan Murphy’s 14 points.
In the Class B semifinals, Mount Mercy topped Nichols, 39-30, and Christian Central blew by St. Mary’s of Lancaster, 70-28. Mount Mercy and Christian Central will play for the Class B title Saturday at 5 p.m. at Canisius College.