By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
TREDYFFRIN – When the Conestoga girls’ basketball team was whistled for a pair of five-second violations in the opening 90 seconds of Wednesday’s District 1 Class 6A second round playoff game, it was a precursor of what was to come.
Over the ensuing 30-plus minutes of play, the sixth-seeded Pioneers continued to turn the ball over at an alarming rate, and found themselves on the wrong end of a 58-26 blowout to visiting Council Rock North, the 11th seed.
“It shouldn’t have been a predictor of what happened after, but we really struggled to get into the offense and handle it with composure,” said Conestoga head coach Chris Jeffries.
The only positive that came out of what happened on Wednesday is that it didn’t end the Pioneers’ season. ’Stoga (20-5 overall) drops down into the consolation round and will host No. 14 Coatesville on Saturday. Council Rock North (17-7 overall) advances to the district quarterfinals on Saturday and will face third-seeded Plymouth Whitemarsh.
“You look at the scoreboard and everybody knows how to do math,” Jeffries said. “The job becomes more difficult by the minute and at a certain point we realized that we have to move on. We have an important game on Saturday, and our path to the state tournament is still available to us.”
The outcome wasn’t a total shocker, but the way the Indians so completely frustrated, and ultimately dominated, a good Conestoga squad was stunning. The Pioneers were the runner-up in the Central League this season.
“We felt going in we could pressure (Conestoga),” said North head coach Lou Palkovics. “We knew their strength is the inside game and we didn’t want it to become a half-court game, so we thought: pressure, pressure, pressure. And we gave them five different looks with our press and it was effective.”
As a result, every possession seemed to be an adventure for ’Stoga, and all too often it ended with the Pioneers losing possession and Council Rock North going the other way. In all, the Eagles forced 35 turnovers.
“On average, we turn it over 11 times a game, so it was uncharacteristic,” Jeffries said. “But it was CYO-level ballhandling from us, and it’s not acceptable. In the playoffs, you are going to lose if you play like that.
“But I don’t think it’s going to be a predictor of the future for us.”
The unquestioned star of the game was CRN’s point guard Becca Margolis. The 5-foot-4 junior keyed the Indians’ suffocating full-court pressure. And even when the Pioneers got the ball past half-court, they were being constantly rushed and harassed.
“Our defense really played a big role,” said Margolis, who scored 17 points. “The full-court pressure kind of made them jittery.”
In the first half alone, North forced 21 turnovers (not a misprint). And Margolis was everywhere on the court, poking the ball loose in the open floor, digging down on post players and getting into the passing lanes.
“She sets the tone defensively and offensively,” Palkovics said. “It’s tough to play against her for 32 minutes. She’s an All-State soccer player and she never slows down. She never gets tired, she played intense and was just amazing tonight.”
Margolis fueled a 9-2 run to end the half for the Indians, who then scored the first seven points of the second half to take command, 31-16. Margolis later hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers to close out a 20-4 third quarter, and widen the margin to 44-20.
“We’ve played 25 games this season, and we’ve played two really bad games,” Jeffries explained. “We got blown against Garnet Valley about a month and a half ago, and we played bad tonight. We didn’t put our best foot forward, and when that happens in the playoffs, you are going to take it on the chin.”
The Pioneers managed to hit on just eight total field goals. Liz Scott led the way with nine points, but nobody else had more than six.
“After the game we talked about that earlier loss to Garnet Valley, and how we won the next six,” Jeffries pointed out. “We’ve been able to come through this before.
“But I don’t want them to forget about it because it’s a lesson we should learn. You can’t finger-point – that’s not going to help anything. We will sit on this, digest it and move on.”
Council Rock North 58, Conestoga 26
COUNCIL ROCK NORTH – Margolis 5 3-6 17; Polinsky 1 3-4 6; Haggerty 1 0-0 3; Macklin 2 0-1 4; Bandurick 7 3-6 17; Jones 1 0-0 2; Mealy 1 0-0 3; Tinner 1 3-4 5; Khantzian 0 1-2 1. Totals 19 13-23 58.
CONESTOGA – Mascoli 1 4-4 6; Dirks 0 0-2 0; N. Scott 1 0-0 2; Lortz 0 0-1 0; L. Scott 3 2-3 9; Powell 2 0-3 4; Mayock 1 3-4 5. Totals 8 9-17 26.
Council Rock North 9 15 20 14 – 58
Conestoga 7 9 4 6 – 26
Three-pointers: Margolis 4, Polinski, Mealy, Haggerty, L. Scott.