LANSDALE — Archbishop Carroll stressed offensive rebounding in practice leading up to its first-round PIAA Class AAAA tournament game against Garnet Valley.
Players credited assistant coach Renie Shields for the instruction and the constant reminders. Sure enough, it was an offensive rebound that led to a Carroll victory.
Lexi Stover's putback of a Julia Gantz miss as time expired gave Carroll a thrilling 41-39 victory.
The Patriots (15-9) pulled off their greatest comeback of the season and advanced to the second round. Next up is District Three's Cumberland Valley — a 46-43 winner over Central Bucks West — Tuesday night at a time and place to be determined.
The matchup of Delaware County powers — played inside Lansdale Catholic's too-close-for-comfort gymnasium — lived up to expectations.
The Jaguars (26-3) were riding high in the third quarter, up 16 points (33-17) and in complete control. A 17-0 run over the course of the second and third periods appeared to spell the end of Carroll's season. The Patriots, following a fast start that included hitting five of their first seven field goals, were unable to keep up with Garnet Valley's athletic starting five of the Ireland sisters, Maddie and Jordan, Sam Tomasetti, Macy Goldbach and Haley Warden.
The deficit Carroll faced seemed insurmountable. Either that, or the Patriots were just warming up. (It was probably not that at all.)
"The difference was, we started hitting our shots and coach (Chuck Creighton) put us in five-out, which definitely worked once we started cutting behind the zones because they (Garnet Valley) were playing high up, so we got some easy layups and we able to get back in the game,' Stover said.
Carroll played like an entirely different team in the second half.
"We played with a lot of heart," Creighton said. "We thought we could offensive rebound against them. They're such an athletic team, but they don't have a lot of size. We do a shooting drill at the end of practices where we miss our shots and try to tap them in. Fortunately, we do that a lot, and Lexi was there and we got lucky."
When Stover hit the winning shot, falling on her backside in the process and mobbed by teammates shortly thereafter, the Patriots capped a remarkable 24-6 finish.
But how did they get there? Let's go back...
The Jags (26-2) took a 29-17 lead into the locker room at intermission, then came out and scored the first four points of the second half. Carroll regrouped with a timeout — one of a handful Creighton had to burn in order to rally his troops and re-strategize on the bench. From there, the Patriots ramped up the intensity on offense after being shut down by Garnet Valley's zone defense for the first 16-plus minutes. Sometimes, all it takes is one shot to get rolling, so it was up to Keara McNulty, whose 3-pointer put the kibosh on an anemic offensive stretch and ended Garnet Valley's 17-0 burst of dominance.
A Gantz bucket was followed by a Stover 3-pointer and, suddenly, the Patriots were alive and well. Margaret Filipelli hit a three-point play and Carroll ended the third quarter trailing 35-34.
It was an incredible turnaround.
"Maddie Ireland hit at least four 3s (in the first half) and was really tough to stop. She did really (well)," said Gantz, who scored 10 points on 5 of 7 shooting. "I think we were able to switch off a lot of screens and we were able to execute our offense and start making our shots in the second half."
Gantz tipped her cap — figuratively speaking; she was not actually wearing a hat — to the younger Ireland, who netted a game-high 17 points. The sophomore guard shot lights out in the first half, drilling four triples en route to a game-leading 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting halftime. Her only miss was a buzzer-beating half-court attempt at the end of the second quarter that nearly went in.
The Patriots, however, found a way to limit Maddie and Jordan Ireland to three points on 1-of-6 shooting over the third and fourth quarters.
Stover and Filipelli blanketed the Irelands. Creighton spoke highly of Filipelli, a senior reserve player who doesn't always get the chance to start, but always makes the most of opportunities.
"Margaret really did some nice things for us and played without fear," Creighton said. "It's a testament to her athletic ability to come off the bench like that and step up. We got great effort from a lot of girls. There was times when we struggled with our composure. Down 16, we just fought back and never gave up."
What makes the Patriots' win even more amazing? They attempted just one free throw.
After halftime, the Jags managed to score only 10 points. Alas, an otherwise amazing season (26 wins, Central League title) ended in bitter disappointment.
"We shot the ball well in the first half, but Carroll made some adjustments and I thought maybe we got a little tired," Garnet Valley coach Joe Woods said. "We had an outstanding season and I'm very proud of the win. Credit goes to Carroll because they deserved to win."