Decade’s best No. 2: Lewisburg’s Megan O’Hara’s buzzer-beater lifted Dragons in 2018 HAC Tournament semifinals vs. Mount Carmel
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 girls basketball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.
Injuries had cost Lewisburg several likely victories a year earlier. The 2017 Green Dragons lost key players throughout the season and went 11-15. Somehow Lewisburg reached states, but the injuries prevented it from achieving more success.
When Megan O’Hara hurt her ribs in the third quarter of this HAC Tournament semifinal in 2018, it appeared injuries might win again. Instead, the senior and her teammates inflicted the pain. O’Hara returned a few minutes later and the next time she left the court that February night she did so as a hero.
Point guard Grace Kelleher found O’Hara streaking to the basket in the final seconds as O’Hara made a buzzer-beating layup and Lewisburg edged Mount Carmel, 45-44, in a battle of HAC Division champions.
“It was a sharp pain and I said, ‘I can’t be out right now.’ I just wanted to get out there so bad,” O’Hara said afterward. “Even if it hurt I wanted to be out on the floor and part of what was happening with the team.”
“She’s one of the toughest people I know. She’s so hard-working and resilient,” Kelleher said. “That defines her right there, getting hurt in the third quarter and coming back to hit the game-winning basket. She’s an amazing player.”
This was a pretty amazing game between teams which both won 22 games that season and that entered the HAC Tournament a combined 37-7. Lewisburg avoided the injuries that weighed it down in 2017 and an experienced and hungry group captured the HAC-II championship, the program’s first league title of the 2000s. The 19-3 record also was Lewisburg’s best of the 2000s. The Dragons won 12 straight games earlier that season and entered the tournament riding a six-game winning streak.
Mount Carmel also was having an outstanding season, nothing new for a program in the midst of winning nine district championships in three years. The Tornadoes eventually captured the District 4 Class AAA title that year and were a team that almost always found a way to win close games, especially in the postseason.
Lewisburg defeated Mount Carmel, 59-51, 16 days earlier and was eager to try and exact revenge. The defending HAC Tournament champions started strong, too, building a 10-point first-quarter lead. Lewisburg slowed the game down from there and turned up the defensive pressure. Guards Bethony Rippon and Allie Reed fueled a feisty unit and center Emily Sholly acted as an eraser inside as Lewisburg pulled within 22-17 at halftime.
Lewisburg fought off the ropes in the first quarter and started landing haymakers in the third, playing one of its best quarters that season. Five players scored and the Dragons hit 8 of 13 shots, going on a 19-6 run and building an eight-point lead entering the fourth.
“We were down five at halftime so we just came out in the second half and just said let’s work hard and play great defense and the rest will take care of itself,” Kelleher said after scoring 16 points. “It’s amazing. So many people stepped up tonight. Everyone is doing so great.”
Mount Carmel, though, has built a championship tradition upon elevating its performance in tough games like these and finding ways to win. Future all-state guard Nicole Varano ignited another fourth-quarter push, finishing with a game-high 26 points. Varano scored again inside with 30 seconds remaining and Mount Carmel went up, 44-43.
Lewisburg had a chance to tie or take the lead 14 seconds later, but missed the front end of a 1-and-1. O’Hara then made a huge play which set up her best play, securing an offensive rebound off the miss. Lewisburg took a timeout and set up its final shot, hoping to not leave any time for Mount Carmel to retaliate.
Kelleher was one of the best point guards in program history and Mount Carmel focused on her as she brought the ball from the right wing toward the foul line. Sholly set a screen and the Tornadoes triple teamed Kelleher in the final seconds and she had what she wanted. Kelleher whipped a perfect pass which hit O’Hara, cutting from the left, in stride. A year earlier, Lewisburg had used a similar play to beat Central Columbia at the buzzer. Kelleher and O’Hara worked it to perfection and O’Hara easily made the buzzer-beater before being engulfed by happy teammates.
“We wanted to get the ball in Grace’s hands. She is reliable and can finish in many different ways, but she’s smart enough to know that if you draw a defender you have to find someone open,” Lewisburg coach Phil Stamm said. “Mount Carmel plays that way, they throw everybody at you and if you keep your composure you can find somebody and Grace did a great job of finding Meg.”
Not many teams beat Mount Carmel, especially with dramatic finishes like that one, so this definitely was one to savor.
“Grace and I have a little connection. I went right to the middle and she saw me. I wasn’t even looking at the clock. I was like, ‘just go in!'” O’Hara said. “When I got that pass and looked up and the clock hit zero it was just surreal.”