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Kellenberg nipped by Cardinal O'Hara in state CHSAA Class A final

Kellenberg's Cristen Whigham is boxed out by Cardinal

Kellenberg's Cristen Whigham is boxed out by Cardinal O'Hara's Keyonte Edwards in the Class A CHSAA championship game against Cardinal O'Hara at Holy Trinity on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Credit: Steven Ryan

Winning championships require a few things. One is talent. There is no doubt that the Kellenberg girls basketball team has plenty of that. After all, you don't get to play the second weekend of March without it. Another is passion and that element is evident as soon as the game starts and the group starts screaming encouragement toward everyone on the floor.

But there is a third intangible that is almost impossible to quantify. That's luck, and it can be as cold as early March air if it hits a team the wrong way.

Luck wasn't Kellenberg's friend Saturday night, as the Firebirds fell, 62-59, to Buffalo Cardinal O'Hara in the state CHSAA Class A final at Holy Trinity.

Kellenberg, which trailed by one at the time, turned the ball over with 11 seconds left. On the next possession, the Firebirds (21-7) sent O'Hara to the free-throw line. After the Hawks missed the first free throw, the Firebirds perked up.

When they missed the second, both teams converged inside the key, looking for the rebound. The ball bounced off a group of hands and back into the basket, giving O'Hara the three-point lead that, after a Kellenberg heave missed the mark, would become final.

"Sometimes the ball doesn't bounce your way," coach Matthew Kirk said. "That held true for our team today. It was just an unfortunate thing. My girls fought hard and that's all I ask for. We made it here. No one thought this season would go as far as it did. I couldn't be more proud of my program today."

Candace Belvedere, whose basket with 1:35 left cut the O'Hara lead to 56-55, led Kellenberg with 22 points and 12 rebounds. For the senior, the end of the road, though tough, also served as a reminder of how far her team had come.

"I'll remember that everyone doubted us and we pulled through in the end," Belvedere said. "We came a long way, improved so much as a team, and became a family."

Brenna Dennelly finished with 12 points. Kaitlyn Stackpole added eight points.

Win or lose, Kellenberg's mere presence in a game that it hadn't been to since 2009 said a lot about what the team accomplished this year. If the team was ever an afterthought, it is not anymore.

"We had a great season," Kirk said. "When you have a strong senior class, things are easy. They made my life easy as a coach. To go out with the way the game ended, kind of stinks, but Kellenberg basketball is back . . . "

Added Belvedere: "It was exciting to be a part of it. Unfortunately, we came up short in the end and couldn't get the ball in the basket. But we worked together and ended with confidence. We'll always look to each other."

And those are the kind of memories that bad luck can't touch.

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