By Mike Longo Jr.
After breezing through the regular season, picking up another WPIAL title and forging ahead in the state playoffs, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart fans prepared for a sudden end to the glory streak during a nail-biting matchup against Kennedy Catholic.
OLSH entered the PIAA semi-final contest as the clear favorites March 19, but their performance in the first two quarters told otherwise. By halftime, an 11-point deficit threatened to end their 66-game undefeated spree.
Center Dawson Summers won the opening tip and the Chargers missed their first attempt at a basket. Kennedy Catholic set the tone of the game early on with a long range three-pointer to open the scoring. It was one of many to follow.
As the period continued, OLSH looked nothing like an undefeated team and struggled to net 10 points. Their lackluster shooting effort resulted in a 17-point deficit at the end of period one, trailing 27-10. Kennedy Catholic nailed three-pointer after three-pointer looking poised to run the Chargers out of the building.
The second stanza saw the Chargers deficit grow to 24 points midway through the quarter before OLSH was able to reclaim some momentum and end the first half 11 points behind. This rare trailing posture tested the mindset of the players, coaches and fans.
The Chargers showed their resilience entering the third quarter and continued to chip away at the Kennedy lead. They outscored their opponents 19-13 as the period came to a close, but still trailed 54-48. A glimmer of hope remained for the OLSH faithful in the stands. On the floor, the players had regained their composure and looked ready to strike.
They say a close game is won or lost at the foul line; that's where this contest was fought. The Chargers rampaged, firing shots that finally found the bottom of the net. Down the stretch the Chargers converted on key free throw attempts.
With just three ticks of the clock remaining in the game - tied at 65-a-piece - fans and players on both sides held their breath one more time as Kennedy Catholic looked to snatch the game from one final possession. The ball goes up toward the basket and Chargers giant Summers leaps, and swats the game-winning attempt out of bounds as the clock hits zero. 65-65 and this one is heading to overtime.
OLSH fans and players could now breathe, encouraged by their performance in the final quarter, where they outscored Kennedy 17-11 to erase a six-point deficit. Still, overtime in a gym with a huge game on the line produced a deafening sound. Fans roared, while on the court, players urged each other to up their game.
That's what the Chargers did. Pressure defense, down low in the paint, strong quick moves to draw fouls. Once again, OLSH hit key free throws from the line to seal the victory. They outscored Kennedy 13-3 in overtime for a ten-point win.
Kennedy Catholic's Elijah Hardin made 31 points throughout the game, setting his team up for what at one point looked like a clear victory. Yet Hardin’s success roused OLSH’ sleeping giant Jake DiMichele, the team’s season-long all-star, who racked up 39 points against Kennedy Catholic. Summers netted 16 in second.
With win number 67 in the bag, OLSH will now travel to Chocolate Town and the PIAA Finals, where the Chargers will be looking for back to-back state championship titles. With a win in Hershey, the Chargers will tie the Pennsylvania State Record for most consecutive wins, 68 set by West Philadelphia High School in 1978.