EAGLEVILLE >> Two days removed from an emotionally- and physically-draining Pioneer Athletic Conference championship game loss to Boyertown, Methacton couldn’t afford any carryover Saturday afternoon. Hosting taller and dangerous Downingtown East in the first round of District 1 Class 6A play, the Lady Warriors needed to regather themselves to pursue the bigger goals on their radar.
And they did.
They played consistently well on both ends of the floor, except for an early stretch of the third quarter, when the No. 20-seeded Cougars made a mini-run. Methacton staved that off by stomping on the gas pedal, going on a 14-0 run to turn a five-point lead into 19 entering the fourth quarter. That response propelled the 13-seeded Lady Warriors to a 62-38 victory, advancing them to a Wednesday meeting with No. 4 Garnet Valley.
In the PAC final, Methacton (19-6), roared back from an 18-point first-half deficit to lead several times in the final four minutes. Looking for the program’s first PAC title, the Lady Warriors fell short, 47-44. Methacton senior guard Ryan DeOrio, honored before Saturday’s game for having joined the 1,000-point club, acknowledged the setback took a lot of out of the team, but only temporarily.
“We told ourselves we had to leave it in the locker room,” DeOrio said.
“Our big question today was how were we going to respond after the Boyertown game,” Methacton coach Craig Kaminski said. “It took a toll emotionally. But we were totally focused and played at a high energy level. It was a total team effort.
“We told the girls, the PAC is a great league, and the Final Five is a great tournament, but the district is bigger, and states is bigger. So as emotional as the loss to Boyertown was, we left it in the locker room.”
Kaminski credits his seniors for exceptional leadership that trickles throughout the roster, and in the district opener three of them led the scoring column: DeOrio with 15, Jackie Cerchio 13 and Jenna Cooper 11.
“We play together, and that’s one of the things that separates us from a lot of teams,” Cerchio said. “We knew they were tall, but our team has speed.”
Downingtown East (14-9) was led by junior Olivia Williams’ 12 points, including three 3-pointers. Four juniors and 6-5 freshman Bella Smuda accounted for all the Cougars’ scoring. With those returning rotation players, who also include guard Danielle Tyrell, Erin Phelan and Emily Crum, the future looks bright, but it was a little early for Cougars coach Tom Schurtz to see that far ahead.
“Methacton did a great job,” Schurtz said. “They played at a consistently high level, and with a lot of energy. We came back a little but we couldn’t sustain the effort it took in trying to come back.”
Besides Methacton’s pressure defense, another big reason the district opener got away from a fairly young East team was a 5-for-18 showing at the free throw line, including 2-for-12 in the first half, when the Cougars didn’t reward the strong effort that was keeping them within shouting distance.
Attacking in transition off a flurry of Cougar turnovers, the pressing, run-and-stun Lady Warriors scorched to a 15-4 lead before the first quarter ended. But fouls were slowing them down, and had the Cougars been able to cash a few more free throws in the first half, it could have been far closer than the 31-18 halftime score. Two treys by Williams in the second quarter, a drive by Tyrell and a turnaround jumper by Phelan kept the game manageable for the Cougars despite the missed free throws and five more turnovers in the second period.
“I was proud of the effort throughout the game,” Schurtz said. “The free throws hurt. Instead of going in at halftime down single digits, you look up and it’s still double digits. But Methacton’s a very good team and very well-coached.”
East made a 10-2 run early in the second half. Another three from Williams started it, followed by inside buckets from Crum and Phelan, another from Smuda and a free throw from Williams. Suddenly it was just 33-28 with 4:41 left in the third.
At that point Methacton put its foot down, starting with DeOrio’s driving floater.
“We couldn’t take our foot off the gas pedal,” DeOrio said.
A 14-0 surge ensued. Methacton forced five turnovers during the run, sharing the ball after stealing it. DeOrio dished to Cooper for a bucket, then, scooting down the baseline, she made a sweet wraparound pass to Sydney Tornetta to make it 45-28.
“Our coach had us adjust our press, and everybody was hustling to the ball,” Cerchio said.
“We’re a very well-conditioned team,” added DeOrio.
Having gotten over Boyertown and gotten after Downingtown East, Methacton next looks to automatically get into states by beating Garnet Valley Wednesday in the district’s second round.