At halftime of Saturday’s South Jersey Group 2 girls’ basketball semifinals, Haddonfield coach Jackie Mulligan said she considered not putting Mary Kelly back on the floor in the second half.
Kelly suffers from migraines. And one had hit her hard just before the game against Barnegat.
“Her mom actually came into the locker room to give her Tylenol and her inhaler and make sure she was OK,” Mulligan said. “But she wanted to play. She just kept plugging away.”
It wasn’t a surprise that Kelly would opt to play through pain. She comes from a family of basketball lifers. Playing basketball is just what Kelly does.
But Kelly didn’t just play. She scored 15 points in the first half, showing no signs of being slowed until she was spotted in the locker room at the break, head buried in her hands.
To that point, she was the catalyst as her Bulldawgs jumped on Barnegat early, setting the table for a 48-27 victory that sent Haddonfield to the South Jersey championship at top-seeded Manchester Township on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
It will be the second time Kelly has been in the sectional final in her four years at Haddonfield (23-5). Her team lost to rival Sterling when she was a sophomore.
And, yes, that was in her head — as much as it was aching — when she took the floor on Saturday.
“This is our goal. This is a special team and this is what we wanted to accomplish,” Kelly said.
As for the migraine: “The worst part about it is when you sit down, it tends to start throbbing — and the more you think about it, the worse it gets.”
Staying active helps, Kelly said, which is another thing that’s second nature for one of South Jersey’s most tenacious players.
Kelly, a 6-foot forward, is Haddonfield’s top scorer, averaging 11.4 points per game. She scored her 1,000th point earlier this year, a milestone she’s proud of but one that sneaked up on her — she was too focused on team goals, she said.
“She’s just a tough kid,” Mulligan said. “And she does a lot of things that people don’t realize. She gets double-teamed and triple-teamed underneath on every rebound. But she just keeps going.
“She keeps people out of the paint defensively, and she’s probably averaging five blocks per game.”
Kelly’s father starred at Ursinus and her cousin, Colin Kelly, played for St. Joseph’s.
“Basketball has always just been a part of my life,” Kelly said. “Being around the game all the time is just normal to me.”
Next year, Kelly will continue her career at Catholic University, where she’ll reunite with former Haddonfield guard CC Mooney, who formed a dynamic one-two punch with Kelly at the high school level over the previous three seasons.
“That’s going to be awesome,” Kelly said. “It was kind of unexpected, but I ended up loving the school. And CC and I are great friends so it’s so exciting to know that I’m going to be playing with her again.”
For now, though, Kelly is focused on a piece of unfinished business facing her and her current teammates.
Kelly is complemented by one of South Jersey’s deepest supporting casts, including fellow senior Annie Stanton and a star in the making in freshman guard Keegan Douglas.
“It’s not just a bunch of individuals playing,” Kelly said. “We really click as a team this year.”