Lack of heart never an issue for these Irish

The baskets when most would suffer from queasy stomachs, the defensive stands when many would have trouble feeling their legs — that’s the easy part for the Sacred Heart Cathedral girls’ basketball team.

It’s only in the attempts to explain how the Irish can always perform in the most pressure-packed moments of big games that can sometimes trip members of the program up.

Saturday night at Arco Arena, Sacred Heart players and coaches were left searching for the words to describe another stunning win in what has become a series for the two-time defending state champions.

The Irish, ranked No. 1 in the nation by USA Today, rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat No. 8 St. Mary’s of Stockton 46-45 for the NorCal Division III title. Junior forward Tierra Rogers made the go-ahead basket with 10.5 seconds remaining and Sacred Heart prevailed when Jazmine Jackson forced Rams’ guard Afure Jemerigbe into a tough layup attempt that bounced off the side of the rim as time expired.

Sacred Heart (32-0) will be the only team to represent The City in the state finals after the Irish and Lick-Wilmerding boys fell in their NorCal championship games, and will face Magnolia of Anaheim (27-6) on Saturday back at Arco at 1 p.m. “The end got sketchy, but we’ve always talked about believing in each other,” senior guard Rosslyn Beard said. “It’s hard to explain. There’s just a will power and a confidence we have that we’ll get it done.”

It was the third straight game at Arco to come down to the wire for the Irish. Last year, they beat Sacramento 67-66 in the NorCal final after Lauren Bell hit a layup with 7.6 seconds left and Jackson forced forward Vicki Baugh (now at Tennessee) into a missed shot at the buzzer. In the state title game, Rogers converted a 3-point play with three seconds left in regulation to force overtime against Bishop Amat of La Puente, and Sacred Heart ultimately won 60-54.

“I would hope we bring some confidence into these games and know that if we keep playing, something good will happen,” Irish coach Brian Harrigan said. “[Saturday] was not our best day, but true champions … find a way to hang in there and get it done.”

Sacred Heart shot just 16-of-57 from the floor (28 percent) and committed 20 turnovers, but held the Rams (32-1) to nearly half of their season average of 84.4 points per game.

“It seems like we never shoot our best [at Arco],” said junior guard Ki-Ki Moore, who assisted on Rogers’ game-winner. “We just kept our hopes up, reminded ourselves we got here for a reason and kept playing hard.”

That continued to the end, when Jackson (who scored a game-high 17 points) forced the final errant shot.

“I could have made the layup,” Jemerigbe said. “I guess it just wasn’t meant to go in.”

For Sacred Heart, it seemingly always is.

melliser@examiner.com

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