IHA survives Paramus Catholic rally, advances to 7th straight state title by Paul Schwartz of The Record
MONTVALE – Everything was going crazy in the fourth quarter for Immaculate Heart Academy, but Anna Morris and Brittany Graff kept their heads.
IHA blew most of a 15-point lead in a wild four minute stretch that narrowed the gap over Paramus Catholic to just 42-39 with 2:25 to go, when the two veteran sophomores (Both started nearly every game of the last two seasons) took the game back.
IHA held on to defeat the Paladins 55-48 to win their seventh straight North Non-Public A title and reach the title game against St. Rose Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Barnabas Arena in Toms River.
“I never thought we were going to lose the game, because I have trust in my teammates,’’ said Graff, who made seven clutch free throws in the final 1:26 to withstand the PC surge.
And Morris, who dominated the game at times and finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks made two of her own and scored a decisive basket that broke the back of the PC rally.
The Blue Eagles (24-3) had built a 35-20 lead after three periods and seemed on the way to an easy win. With six minutes left, it was still 37-23 and then lightning struck in the form of a frantic Paladin press and a suddenly red-hot Janel Moore.
Moore, the heralded freshman who had been held scoreless for the first 26 minutes, hit a short jump shot to make it 37-25 and then the roof seemed to cave in for a few minutes.
“It’s uncharacteristic of us to play like that,’’ said IHA coach Steve Silver after he caught his breath at game’s end. “I was trying to stay calm to keep us calm, but PC (19-6) and Moore put on a unbelievable display of shooting for that stretch.’’
Moore, playing with four fouls, hit a long three to make it 37-28 and later in the quarter banked a two and then a three before canning a pair of foul shots with 2:56 left making it 41-38.
The teams exchanged free throws and then A’Nyah Barker found Morris behind the PC press for a layup with 1:26 to go reestablish a five-point lead. Julianna Kascic hit a pair of free throws for PC, but then Morris and Graff went to work from the foul line, hitting eight of 10, six by Graff, while PC suddenly went cold.
The Paladins had one last surprise as Elisha Cross threw in a long three-pointer with nine seconds left. But the lead had gotten back to eight points by then and it was window dressing.
“When I see Brittany on the foul line, I feel very good,’’ said Silver. “She’s fearless and tough as nails.’’
The short turnaround isn’t ideal for IHA, but Silver is confident his team will perform well.
“Let’s roll out the balls and see what it happens,’’ he said. “It should be fun. “