By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS)— They couldn’t hear. And there isn’t a louder crucible than the Palestra court when it’s boiling over with emotion from all sides.
Still, the Neumann-Goretti girls’ basketball team didn’t panic. They didn’t cave in. The Saints are a young team that had never been in that adverse situation before. They learned a little about themselves in managing to stave off a very good Archbishop Wood team to win their first Catholic League title since 1978, 55-46, Monday night.
The Saints remained undefeated at 24-0, thanks to a big steal from junior guard C.C. Cryor, and some clutch three-point shooting from sophomore guard Alicia Kebbe, who finished with 17. Wood fell to 20-3 and was led by sophomore Bailey Greenberg, the daughter of former La Salle player Chip Greenberg, who led the Vikings with 17.
It marked the first Catholic League girls’ championship for Neumann-Goretti, and first since Neumann merged with St. Maria Goretti, which last one the Catholic League title in 1978.
“It was a big deal just to get here, because we didn’t get this far last year,” said Neumann-Goretti coach Letty Santarelli, who did an amazing job in resurrecting the Saints’ program. “The message was just to stay focused and keep the attitude of one game at a time. I’m a little in shock right now. Tonight I think did help us. We couldn’t hear anything. Wood is a very good team and they’ve been here many years in a row. They know what it’s like. We didn’t. We had to stay focused, and stay focused on the things we did well.”
Neumann-Goretti led from start to finish, but the Saints were challenged, 47-44, with 5:01 left to play after a free throw by Wood junior guard Jess Kaminski. That would be the closest the Vikings would get. But Cryor stole the ball from Kaminski with 1:04 left and nailed a pair of free throws to put some cushion on the Saints’ edge, 52-44, with :44.2 left.
“We did panic a little, but we stayed together as a team, and as a leader, I had to do something,” Cryor said. “When the pressure came down, our coaches kept telling us to play our game and stay together. Wood did surprise in the second half and they got on a streak. We were pushed a little here, but we stepped up as a family.”
Neumann-Goretti took a 32-23 lead into halftime. At times in the first half it looked as if the Saints were going to blow out Wood. But the Vikings kept hanging around, thanks to the nice play of Greenberg, who was arguably the best player on the court and led Wood with 9 points at the half.
With 5:26 left in the half, Neumann-Goretti held its biggest edge of the opening two quarters, 28-15, on a three-pointer by Kebbe.
Kebbe and Cryor each had 9 points by halftime. The Saints, however, went the last 1:55 of the half without scoring, enabling Wood to chip away and get within double digits by intermission.
Neumann-Goretti 55, Archbishop Wood 46
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.