Following tradition, Mackenzie Gardler cut down the final piece of the net, wrapped it around her neck, and then continued to celebrate with her equally thrilled Cardinal O'Hara teammates.

With Gardler and fellow senior Maura Hendrixson leading the way, the Lions successfully defended their Catholic League championship by storming past Neumann-Goretti, 54-39, Monday night at the Palestra.

Gardler, a savvy guard who is bound for Villanova, focused on the overall picture following the comeback victory.

"You want to surround yourself with great people in life, and we have great people on this team," she said. "I have family and friends for life. I'm going to remember this forever."

The Saints held a 22-20 lead at the end of a back-and-forth first half and upped their advantage to 30-21 with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

But the Lions closed the stanza with an 8-1 burst to cut the gap to two going into the fourth. That's when Linus McGinty's squad took control with a 9-1 run that was highlighted by Hendrixson's steal and bucket and Gardler's wide-open layup courtesy of a Saints' defensive lapse.

"We have a lot of experienced players on this team, so we trusted in each other," Hendrixson said.

The Lions (20-4) retained the first-place hardware thanks largely to stellar free-throw shooting in the second half. They went 23 for 28 in that span, including 19 for 22 in the last quarter.

Gardler shot 8 for 10 from the stripe following the break and finished with 17 points. She added eight rebounds (two on offense), two assists, and a steal.

The 5-10 Hendrixson netted 17 of her game-high 26 points in the second half, when she went 9 for 12 from the line.

"I try to block everything else out when I'm taking a foul shot," said Hendrixson, who nailed three of seven three-point attempts in the opening 16 minutes.

Fellow senior Molly Paolino, a guard and lockdown defender, made four steals and helped limit Neumann-Goretti's Jabria Ingram to nine points on 4 for 16 shooting. "It was a tragedy that she didn't at least make third-team all-Catholic," McGinty said.

Daijah Parmley, a 5-11 senior forward, paced the Saints (17-6) with 10 points and eight boards. Ingram, a 5-8 senior guard and Hartford recruit, was next in line with nine points.

Ingram, the Catholic League's most valuable player, was held to one field goal in the middle two quarters.

Cardinal O'Hara 11 9 9 25-54

Neumann-Goretti 12 10 9 8-39

CO: Maura Hendrixson 26, Mackenzie Gardler 17, Molly Paolino 3, Kerry Patterson 4, Erin Welde 2, Siobhan Boylan 2.

NG: Jabria Ingram 9, Tatiana Jones 7, Daijah Parmley 10, Kiara Kroger 3, Angel Ricks 4, Chelsea Keebler 6.