By Larry Moko
With the 2022 Golden Horseshoe Athletic Conference girls’ AAA basketball championship on the line, the Cathedral Gaels faced an undefeated team which was being cheered on by its enthusiastic home crowd.
And if that wasn’t difficult enough to deal with, Cathedral’s opponent enjoyed a height advantage under the basket.
While the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic champion Gaels struggled through much of the first half Thursday, they slowly gathered momentum and eventually rolled to a 62-33 victory over Oakville’s St. Ignatius of Loyola Hawks.
The outcome qualifies Cathedral for the OFSAA championship tournament, Nov. 24-26, in Windsor.
“There was a lot of pressure … we needed to win this game,” said coach Kevin Daly, who guided the Gaels to a provincial high school title in the sport last season.
Cathedral held a slim 24-22 lead mid way through the second quarter. But at that point, the visitors went on a 24-2 run.
Keira Daly, who finished with a game-high 31 points and contributed to another strong Gaels’ defensive effort, banked in a three-point basket at the buzzer to send the Cathedral into the fourth quarter with a 48-24 cushion.
“They were a bigger team and their defence was pretty good,” Keira said. “It was really unexpected. I like how everyone on our team was sharing the ball.”
Kylie Rosos added 11 points for Cathedral, while Nicole Daly chipped in with nine.
Forwards Nuju Ubosi and Nikolina Rupcich paced the Hawks with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
“No question, they were giving us trouble with their size and athleticism,” coach Daly said. “We were having trouble getting to the basket. But we kept shooting. They’re a good team. I think we kind of just wore them down.”
Daly called on 11 of his players in the opening half compared to Loyola’s six or seven.
“And that 11th person I put in (Tea Papalia) hit a big 3 for us in the first half,” the Gaels coach pointed out.
Papalia’s was the first of seven three-pointers that Cathedral drained in the game.
“Clearly they’re a talented team,” Loyola coach James Mojica said. “They have a lot of depth and they play at a fast tempo. We kind of got gassed. We couldn’t keep up with their tempo in going up and down the court.”
Loyola recently won the Halton Catholic championship before topping the Halton Public champion Iroquois Ridge Trailblazers, 36-24, in a GHAC semifinal.
According to Mojica, his front-court duo of Ubosi and Grade 9 student Rupcich, proved to be an advantage on the glass for Loyola throughout the season. “We’re so proud of their performance,” he said. “We leaned on them. They had to deal with a lot of physical play and contact.”
Coach Daly said the Gaels didn’t get discouraged despite having one of their worst shooting halves of the season.
“We weren’t scoring,” he said, “but we were confident that if we kept the pace going they would tire. I think, ultimately, that is what happened.”
Coach Daly says he’s proud of how hard the team has worked to achieve its success.
“We’re happy with where we’re at,” he said. “We’ve won 45 games in a row if I counted right. That’s hard to do.
“There is no secret to how we play. We’re going to press, we’re going to run and we’re going to shoot a lot of 3s. Everyone knows that. We’re not going to change. We’re going to go to OFSAA and hope that works.”
With basically the same starting lineup and roster as last year, Keira said she’s excited about making a repeat appearance at OFSAA.
“It’s going to be fun,” the Grade 11 student said.