HERSHEY — Only one team concludes its campaign with a climactic win — the eventual PIAA champion.
But that did not diminish the Mohawk High girls basketball team’s splendid season.
The two-time WPIAL champion Lady Warriors waged a battle with Philadelphia’s West Catholic before bowing in the Class 3A title tilt, 67-56, Thursday afternoon at Giant Center.
“We’re disappointed in the moment, but we’re not disappointed in the people,” emphasized Mohawk mentor Mike O’Lare. “The kids in there (locker room) fought every second of that game, so the disappointment is not in anything other than we lost in the state finals.
“There’s no disappointment in one another with any kid in there,” O’Lare added.
While it was a wire-to-wire win for West Philly — 16-12 after a quarter, 29-26 by the break, and 46-40 through three periods — Mohawk moved within 53-49 with less than three minutes remaining on the second of Hannah McDanel’s pair of fourth-quarter triples. But West Catholic converted six free throws during the last 1:18.
Virginia Tech University commit Destiney McPhaul scored nine of her 16 points during the final frame for the Lady Burrs. That, after misfiring on 9 of 12 floor shots during the first three quarters.
McPhaul actually was upstaged by teammate Ciani Montgomery, who mustered a game-high 34 markers on a 14-for-18 shooting performance for West Philadelphia (11-4).
“They’ve got all good players over there; you can’t stop all of them,” O’Lare reasoned. “With McPhaul, we knew she’s good, but we felt like we can’t key on just one kid over there because somebody else is gonna get you. But we feel the same way about our team. ... We just felt there was a lot of good basketball players out there making plays in a big game ... “
To his point, the triumvirate of Paige Julian (23), Nadia Lape (16) and McDanel (14) paced Mohawk (19-5) in scoring. Julian and Abby Shoaff shared the rebound lead as they split 10, and Julian dished out 5 dimes.
Defensively, the Lady Warriors were playing primarily a 2-3 zone, and O’Lare said, “We just move our ‘pick-up’ points: We’ll come up, then we back up. We gave up (67) points. I think, at times, we made a run because of it, but then at times it went the other way. But we’ve played it all year.”
Mohawk moved within 46-40 with approximately 16 ticks to play in the 3rd period as Julian’s drive and dish set up McDanel’s second triple of the quarter. But Montgomery’s nine markers boosted the Lady Burrs to that six-point edge entering the final frame.
In a first half that featured seven lead changes, the Lady Warriors were knotted at 23 on Julian’s drive with 3:57 remaining to intermission.But West Catholic’s Montgomery made 7 of 9 first-half floor shots en route to 15 points as West Catholic copped a 29-26 margin at intermission.
West Catholic’s silky smooth senior southpaw McPhaul fouled twice in the first 6:14 of the game and missed 8 of her 9 floor shots for just three points. Conversely, Mohawk made 11 of 20 first-half field-goal attempts, led by Julian’s 7-for-9, 17-point performance. Lape lent nine for the Lady Warriors.
“We were spreading them way out in the four corners –– Paige and Nadia were getting to the rim — but the second half they parked two guys on the block and let us shoot the ball,” O’Lare assessed. “We thought, ‘Well, okay, we’ve got some good shooters,’ and we made some, but they really took away our penetration ... when Paige, Nadia went in, there were two guys there.
“But the first half we really exposed their tight man-to-man — we spread ‘em out. But the second half they just stayed back (in the paint), and that made it super-hard for us to get in there,” O’Lare continued. “We felt we were better in space, then we were running sets ... we felt we could get even more space on this floor (GIANT Center) and spread them out ... “
O’Lare (15th season, 229-127) saluted his seniors: Julian, who will matriculate at West Liberty; Lape, to the United States Military Academy for track and field, as will McDanel at Robert Morris University, Shoaff and Alexis Shiderly.
“Two WPIAL championships, a chance at the state title — they understand that they’re linked forever. They’ll get that later when they look back at the history of what they accomplished for a public school up there in Bessemer ... “ summarized O’Lare.
“These kids, I just told ‘em, I never saw a group that’s just fearless,” O’Lare praised. “There’s no moment too big, as far as taking the stage and playin’ that kind’ve a team. They just fight.”
Notes: Mohawk made 13 miscues, 1 more than Philadelphia Catholic League and District 11 champion West Philly. ... Led by McPhaul’s game-high 11 caroms the Burrs out-boarded Mohawk, 33-18. ... Both teams connected on half of their floor shots — Mohawk 23 of 46; West Philly 26 of 52.