Katie Cunningham was stymied, smothered and otherwise stalled in the first half of the Kellenberg-Holy Trinity matchup Saturday. She was, however, not completely stopped.
The roadblock was a speed bump: Meghan Orlando, the Titans' transfer with the badly bruised hip, is a year younger and about 3 or 4 inches shorter. Still, she held Cunningham, one of second-place Kellenberg's leading scorers, to only five points, which was all the Firebirds led by against an overmatched team with five injured players.
"We just had to relax, calm down and work the ball," Cunningham said.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Cunningham finally was able to navigate around Orlando, who helmed the Titans' triangle-and-two defense, and sank two straight treys to deflate Trinity and lead Kellenberg (7-2) to a 54-39 win in CHSAA.
Cunningham finished with a team-high 16 points and went 4-for-8 from three-point range. Emma O'Connor, the other target of the Titans' defense, had 14.
"We really had to look for production from our other players," Kellenberg coach Meghan Moran said. "The other players are trying to stop one or two girls, so the other girls have to look to be part of the offense."
Four different players scored for the Firebirds in an 11-point second quarter, including three from Khadijah Donaldson (10 points, 13 rebounds). The Titans' defense, though, lost its focus in the second half, as the Firebirds outscored Trinity 19-10 in the third quarter, led by Cunningham, who had eight.
"We tried to cause a little chaos in their defense," said Trinity coach John Lipani. "[But] in the second half, they started hitting some jumpers . . . It looked like everything was going in."
It was enough to neutralize even Orlando, the point guard from Hicksville High School who only recently became eligible to play in CHSAA. Orlando injured her hip against St. Dominic and aggravated it early in the Kellenberg match.
Sitting out, though, is a luxury Holy Trinity (3-4) can't afford; five players, including starters Katie Poppe, Ataya Horne and Kelly Carey, are out with injuries.
Orlando, powered by her dribble penetration, had a game-high 20 points and four from downtown. Her baseline jumper with three minutes left in the half drew the Titans to within 22-20. That would be the closest they'd get. Orlando saw the team trainer briefly between halves, but played all but the final minute of the game.
"Her hip is hurt pretty bad," Lipani said after the game, as Orlando paced gingerly behind him, a pack of ice tucked inside her shorts. "She's a tough kid. She'll play through the pain and she has no fear."
It was Kellenberg's first look at Orlando, "and I wanted to make sure we had our best defender on her," Moran said. The unenviable task fell to Cunningham.
"No. 20 was guarding me really well," Cunningham said of Orlando. "She passes well, but once she passes, you don't let her get the ball back."
It was a lesson well-learned, and one Cunningham saw first-hand, as she struggled to get open early. Standing at the top of the key to start the second half and looking for breathing room, she did what Orlando couldn't stop: She kept the ball in her hands and shot.