By BRAD SPAHR
WILLISTOWN - With all the different things going on around the Villa Maria girls basketball team on Tuesday evening, it was certainly understandable to see them start out a little slow in the early goings of their Athletic Association of Catholic Academies game against last place Sacred Heart.
For starters, longtime head coach Kathy McCartney was seeking her 500th career victory. To add a little extra excitement to the night, the Hurricanes’ four seniors were also honored before the game as part of the school’s Senior Night festivities.
So there was definitely a whole lot of butterflies for the Villa Maria players to deal with in front of what was a packed home crowd. After trailing numerous times in the opening half, they came out of the locker room at halftime and put together a dominant third quarter performance to pull away for a resounding 67-30 win to help their beloved coach hit the prestigious 500-win milestone.
Villa Maria (15-4 overall) outscored Sacred Heart, 27-1, in the third period and never looked back. McCartney, who has spent all 27 years of her coaching career at Villa, was honored following the game in front of a crowd that included numerous former players.
"Once I knew the game was in hand, I was able to look around the stands a little bit and I started to see the faces of all these kids I used to coach," said McCartney. "It made me a little overwhelmed -- I have to be honest. My hands were shaking and my pulse was racing.
"It was all very humbling. I know this was about me tonight, but it’s really more about all these kids I have coached over the years. This is such a special place to coach. This night was really all about the Villa Maria community."
Senior guard Lisa Mirarchi led the Hurricanes with a game-high 18 points, and Molly Namiotka added 10. Villa led 31-21 at halftime. They opened the third quarter on a 19-0 run in the first four minutes, forcing seven Sacred Heart turnovers in the process. Namiotka had eight points in that stretch, and Mirarchi added three baskets as they upped their lead to 50-21 before their guests scored their only point of the quarter on a free throw.
"At halftime coach kept telling us we needed to pick up our defense," said Mirarchi. "She got in our faces a little bit.
"We wanted this so bad for her. We were pumped up all day at school. This is an unbelievable milestone for her. She’s a part of history now, and one of the best coaches of all-time in the area. We’re all really proud of her."
Villa Maria’s defense forced 18 turnovers on the night, and they allowed just nine second-half points.
After the game, students held up a sign with 500 on it. Athletic director Maurene Polley then addressed the crowd, and so did McCartney.
"I’m really grateful to be a part of this community," McCartney said to a standing ovation. "I’m really overwhelmed by everyone that came out for this."
Villa Maria has won countless league titles and a few district crowns in McCartney’s 27 years at the helm, and she’s established the program to be one of the most successful in Chester County. One thing she doesn’t have to her credit, though, is a state championship. Make no mistake about it, she’ll continue to put her heart and soul into doing everything she can to change that until the moment she retires.
"I’d trade every one of these wins for a state championship," she said. "On a personal note, I wish my dad [Joe] was here to see this. He passed away 12 years ago. My mom was here, though. A night like this wouldn’t mean nearly as much without the people you love -- my family."
Villa Maria 67, Sacred Heart 30
SACRED HEART: McTaggart 1 0-0 2, Cartafalsa 0 0-0 0, Tucker 2 0-0 6, Kidd-Wilkerson 6 4-8 16, Singer 1 0-0 2, Schneider 0 2-2 2, Kerns 1 0-0 2. Totals: 11 6-10 30.
VILLA MARIA: Mirarchi 8 2-4 18, Daggett 4 0-0 8, Walsh 1 0-0 3, Borden 2 1-2 5, Carlin 3 1-3 8, Namiotka 5 0-2 10, Fetterolf 1 2-2 4, Picinich 2 3-3 7, Steinetz 0 2-2 2, Allan 1 0-0 2. Totals: 27 11-18 67.
Sacred Heart 10 11 1 8 -- 30
Villa Maria 10 21 27 9 -- 67
3-point goals: Tucker 2, Walsh, Carlin.