NEW YORK — To say Cardinal O’Hara knows how to play championship basketball would be an understatement.
The Hawks are the reigning two-time Class B state Catholic champion – a title they are not defending this year because they’re in the Class A tournament by virtue of winning the Monsignor Martin Association playoff championship.
It’s a different bracket but so far the same result for O’Hara.
The Hawks became the first Western New York team to win a Class A semifinal game in three years and will play for another state Catholic championship today, earning a spot in the final by drubbing Cardinal Spellman, 72-55, at St. John’s Prep High School.
O’Hara (24-3) will play Kellenberg Memorial at 5 p.m. today at Holy Trinity High School on Long Island.
Nichols was the last MMA champ to win a game in Class A at the state tournament, beating Spellman in 2011 and then losing in the final to Archbishop Malloy.
“I couldn’t be prouder. Great team effort, great team victory,” Hawks coach Dan McDermott said. “Everyone contributed. Great defense. Execution on offense.”
The defensive efforts of 5-foot-8 Jailyn Dickson and 5-7 Anndea Zeigler proved a big key as they combined to shut down 6-2 Michigan signee Maria Backman, limiting her to seven points – 15 below average.
Jontay Walton scored a game-high 21 points for the Hawks and is now five shy of 2,000 for her career. Kelsey McCarthy added 17 points and Cori Dickson had 16, including a couple big three-pointers during O’Hara’s 25-14 fourth quarter.
Keyonte Edwards canned a crucial three-pointer to provide a boost to O’Hara, which struggled through the quarter but didn’t let Spellman get closer than three points.
Spellman tried to ground the Hawks using a full-court pressure, 2-3 zone and trapping defenses.
The gimmicks didn’t work.
“It seemed like we had an answer to everything they tried,” McDermott said. “The kids did a great job executing the plan.”