Early in the third quarter last night, Cardinal O'Hara's two-year hold on the Catholic League girls' basketball championship appeared to be in jeopardy.
Neumann-Goretti was ahead by eight points, 6-foot-2 center Gloria Brown was starting to score, and the Saints seemed to be confident about beating the Lions on their home floor for the second time this season.
Then, in a quick turnaround, Cardinal O'Hara went on two big scoring runs, one in the third quarter and another in the fourth, and knocked off a stunned Neumann-Goretti, 57-44, in a playoff quarterfinal.
"It was definitely a great second half," Cardinal O'Hara coach Linus McGinty said. "These girls play with a lot of heart."
Cardinal O'Hara, the No. 2 seed from the Southern Division, will take on Archbishop Wood, the Northern Division regular-season champion, at 1 p.m. Sunday in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader.
Against Neumann-Goretti, a Southern Division rival, the Lions trailed, 30-22, with 5 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Sparked by 6-4 sophomore center Steph Holzer and 5-9 junior forward Alicia Manning, Cardinal O'Hara put together a 13-2 run.
The knockout punch came at the start of the fourth quarter. With a 12-2 spurt, the Lions had a comfortable 47-36 advantage with only 2:36 to play. Manning highlighted the run by draining a three-pointer from the left baseline. Holzer provided a follow-up basket, and freshman guard Tasha Cloud sliced down the lane for a nifty layup.
Holzer paced the Lions with 18 points, 11 rebounds (seven on offense), five blocked shots and two steals in 28 minutes. She shot 6 for 8 in the second half.
Holzer and Brown, a North Carolina State recruit, had an intense one-on-one battle. Brown netted 13 points but was held scoreless in the first half.
"I have a great respect for her," Holzer said. "She's going to one of the top basketball colleges in the country."
Manning caught fire in the second half. She scored 10 of her 13 points, including a pair of treys, in the final 16 minutes.
After shooting 8 for 24 from the floor in the first half, Cardinal O'Hara (22-5) connected on 13 of 21 field-goal attempts after intermission. Sophomore point guard Danielle Callahan chipped in with 10 points.
In addition to her 13 points, Brown collected 14 rebounds, blocked five shots, and handed out four assists in 29 minutes. Alison Nelson, a junior forward, added nine points.
The Saints (20-7) committed 12 turnovers and shot 15 for 47 from the field.
Neumann-Goretti7 15 12 10 - 44
Cardinal O'Hara9 9 17 22 - 57
NG: Gloria Brown 13, Jasmine Daniels 8, Amberel Diaz 8, Alison Nelson 9, Ashley White 6.
CO: Danielle Callahan 10, Steph Holzer 18, Alysha Womack 8, Michele DuBois 2, Alicia Manning 13, Tasha Cloud 6.