By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — Cardinal O'Hara coach Dan McDermott knew that if his Lady Hawks could pull off a Federation semifinal upset over Scholars Academy on Saturday afternoon, the team would get a pleasant surprise before the final against Irvington on Sunday.
The Lady Hawks were the underdogs because leading scorer Keyonte Edwards was still in Western New York recovering after suffering a blood clot in her right arm during O'Hara's victory in the state Class B title game two weeks prior. So on Sunday, Edwards made the trip to Albany and surprised her team shortly before tip off to help cheer it on in the biggest game of the season.
McDermott said emotions were certainly running high.
"It's such a close-knit group," he said. "We talked to Keyonte on the phone right before we took the court in the semifinals, and that was very emotional. To have her there for Sunday's game was even more emotional. It was a very emotional weekend, but to have her there in person, giving support and encouragement from the bench, was a blessing."
With the team's emotional leader in street clothes, the Lady Hawks took on arguably the best basketball team in New York state the past four years. The Bulldogs have captured four straight public league state titles and were in pursuit of their third Federation state title in four seasons.
O'Hara played hard and hung around in the first half, but in the final 16 minutes Irvington's Lexi Martins and Brittni Lai, both committed to Division-1 schools, were too much for the Lady Hawks. The pair helped the Bulldogs to a 65-48 win for the Federation Class B title.
"I couldn't be more proud of the valiant effort the girls put forth," McDermott said. "We gave it our best shot and the kids played tough. The ball didn't seem to want to bounce our way. We had a lot of opportunities but it didn't want to drop for us. I thought the defense was pretty good, the rebounding was pretty good and we kept their big stars in check for the most part, but we needed to score more."
Martins picked up three fouls in the first half and O'Hara hoped to take advantage, but the senior didn't pick up another foul in the game and finished with a game-high 22 points and 16 rebounds.
The Bulldogs built on their 30-22 halftime lead in the second half and went into the final frame up 53-35 after a 23-point explosion in the third.
McDermott said that Irvington just had too much firepower to deal with, especially without Edwards.
"It was a pick your poison type of game," he said. "What we tried to do on defense was concentrate on Lai and Martins. Because we were emphasizing those two there were some people that were able to get some open looks against us. To their credit they knocked down some shots and we seemed not able to cash in on our opportunities."
O'Hara's all-time leading scorer Leah McDonell led the way for the Lady Hawks with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. She became the second all-time leading scorer in Monsignor Martin history in her final game, finishing with 1,617 points for her career.
McDermott said it's been a sad two days because he's in the process of saying goodbye to the most influential and successful class in recent O'Hara girls basketball history. But he said the future is bright and he expects his team to continue the success the program has had the past few seasons.
"There's obviously disappointment right now, as expected when you don't win that last game," he said. "But we have to look at what we've been able to accomplish. We won 50 games over the past two seasons. It's very exciting to think of what we still have coming back next year. … We're going to truly miss the four seniors tremendously with all they've brought to the table these past four years."Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.