"Heart attack," Harris said. "This is way too much. Beyond a heart attack."
But Harris smiled as he spoke.
He knew the stress from watching his team blow a seven-point halftime lead, fall behind the Mustangs by 10 points midway through the fourth quarter and then score the final 12 points for a 50-48 win in Alexandria was worth it.
The victory helped the No. 15 Cardinals (15-3, 6-3 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) stay close in the WCAC standings with No. 5 McNamara (14-4, 7-3) behind league leaders St. John's and Paul VI.
"Coach was telling us that we need heart," Ireton center Akunna Konkwo said. "Now we're up there, so we really wanted that win really bad."
During second-half timeouts, Harris impressed upon his players the importance of the game, that Ireton had a chance to establish itself in the upper echelon of one of the most competitive conferences in the country.
And that's what Konkwo thought of as she watched senior Sydney Kennard make a free throw to tie the score at 48 with less than two minutes remaining before hitting a shot on the next possession to put the Cardinals ahead for good.
Kennard said she has often been nervous to take shots in key moments, and Harris typically badgers her for passing up opportunities. But she adopted a new mind-set to score all five of her points in the final period.
"I was playing pretty bad in the beginning," Kennard said. "I knew I needed to come up with something and help my team."
Konkwo had given Ireton an early lead. McNamara played a 2-3 zone and packed the interior, but the 6-foot-3 junior, who averages nearly 20 points and 14 rebounds per game, often garners extra attention. She had nine points in the first half and finished with a game-high 16.
"I'm used to people hanging all over me," Konkwo said. "There's no secret. You've just got to be strong."
McNamara stormed back in the third quarter, outscoring Ireton 20-9 despite the absence of star guard Jakia Brown-Turner.
Brown-Turner, who had 20 points when McNamara beat Ireton, 66-47, on Dec. 15, said she rolled her ankle in a game over the weekend but expects to return for the Mustangs' game against St. John's on Jan. 30.
Ireton switched its defense in the fourth quarter, calling for "chili," when two post players play man-to-man while the perimeter defenders play zone.
It allowed the Cardinals to force McNamara into several turnovers and aided their 12-0 run to close the game.
"We knew that they would come out after halftime and pick up the intensity," Harris said. "We were able to handle the pressure."