HERSHEY, Pa. — Archbishop Wood’s bid for a third consecutive state girls’ basketball championship was denied by a stellar defensive play.
With the Vikings holding the ball for a possible winning shot, speedy guard Tai Johnson intercepted a pass beyond the three-point line, raced down the court, and hit a layup while being fouled with 4.2 seconds remaining.
Johnson converted the ensuing foul shot, Erin Morgan’s heave at the buzzer fell way short, and the Fightin’ Planets triumphed, 36-33, in Wednesday night’s PIAA Class 5A final at the Giant Center.
“I just felt like we were eventually going to get over the hump and win that game,” disappointed Wood coach Mike McDonald said.
Senior Katie May’s bucket on a left-baseline drive gave the Vikings a 28-23 advantage with 4 1/2 minutes remaining in the contest. But Mars, District 7’s No. 4 seed, fought back and used Johnson’s three-pointer and 5-foot-11 forward Bella Palaia’s driving layup to go in front, 33-30, with 1 minutes, 50 seconds to play.
Aided by May’s screen, Wood’s Lindsay Tretter nailed a trey to even things with just over a minute to go. “She’s been putting the ball in the basket for us, so I wasn’t surprised that she stepped up,” McDonald said. “That was a big shot.”
Coming out of a timeout with 40 seconds to go, the Vikings opted to play keep-away and take the last shot. The opportunistic Johnson spoiled that plan with her clutch theft and three-point play.
The Vikings made their eighth appearance in the final in the last nine years. They fell just short of the three-peat they achieved from 2010 to 2012.
“Obviously, this is not the way we wanted to go out,” Wood senior Bridget Arcidiacono said. “But, overall, it was a successful season.”
Arcidiacono, a 6-foot senior who will continue her career at Jefferson University, recorded seven rebounds, six points, four steals, and two blocks.
On defense, Arcidiacono limited Mars’ Lauren Wasylson, a 5-11 senior and Xavier recruit, to four points. Wasylson fouled out early in the fourth quarter. “I was kind of excited about that,” Arcidiacono said. “I was like, ‘One of their best players is out.’”
The Vikings (22-8) struggled to finish around the basket, shot just 11 for 43 from the field, and made only 5 of 20 three-point tries.
Freshman Kaitlyn Orihel led Wood in scoring with nine points; Morgan (six boards) was next in line with eight; and Tretter chipped in four off the bench.
Palaia and Johnson netted 14 and 10 points, respectively, for Mars. The Fightin’ Planets (23-6) earned the program’s first state crown.
The Vikings defeated District 7’s Trinity by 34-26 to gain top honors last season and beat District 10’s Villa Maria by 46-29 in 2016.
Mars 5 9 9 13 – 36
Archbishop Wood 12 7 7 7 – 33
M: Tai Johnson 10, Bella Palaia 14, Lauren Wasylson 4, Alek Johnson 2, Ellie Coffield 4, Mara Fuller 2.
AW: Bridget Arcidiacono 6, Katie May 4, Erin Morgan 8, Kaitlyn Orihel 9, Lindsay Tretter 6.