LOWER MORELAND >> The last thing a higher-seeded team wants to do in a playoff game is let the underdog hang around.
Yet there the top-seeded St. Basil Academy girls basketball team was with 3:57 left in the third quarter its game with No. 8 Salisbury, clinging to a tenuous four-point lead in Lower Moreland’s gym Friday night. The Panthers weren’t sharp and they would go nearly six minutes in that third quarter without a point.
Finally, with a bit more than two minutes left in the third, the Panthers’ best player hit a big shot, a freshman made some big shots and St. Basil pulled away for a 52-30 win in the quarterfinals of the District 1/11 3A regional bracket.
“We mentioned it at halftime, we were trying to get them to realize the situation we’re in now that’s one-and-done,” Basil coach Terry Mancini said. “It’s part of growing up, part of feeling how good you are and not doing the little things you need to do to win games. You have to give Salisbury credit, they shot the ball well for three quarters before our defense got going.”
St. Basil, which remains undefeated on the season, trailed once in the game after Salisbury point guard Sarah McGee scored the game’s first basket. Though the Panthers took the lead on Cheryl Remolde’s 3-point shot, they weren’t able to pull away from the upset-minded Falcons until the final quarter.
Despite having a size advantage, St. Basil was sloppy both with the ball and in its shooting around the rim. The AACA champions missed countless layup and senior center Natalie Kucowski shot just 6-of-17 from the floor and missed nine of her first 12 shots.
Her 13th shot however, proved to be a very important one as the Lafayette recruit buried a left-wing 3-pointer after the Falcons had sliced the Basil lead down to four late in the third frame.
“Personally, I wasn’t taking my time on my layups and collectively, it was kind of the same thing,” Kucowski, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, said. “We would get an offensive rebound and go back up too quickly with it and not settle and control ourselves to finish.”
Basil hadn’t played since last Tuesday in the AACA final but Kucowski was adamant that wasn’t a fair excuse and instead it was just failure by the players to capitalize on the easy opportunities they made for themselves. The Panthers led 12-7 after one and 27-16 at the half, the lead comfortable enough but with SBA feeling like it should have been in total control of the game.
What kept Salisbury, which came down from its District XI home near Allentown, in the game was its 3-point shooting. McGee played with no fear of Basil’s superior size, driving into the lane to create kick-out passes and calmly drilling a pair of 3s in the second quarter.
The guard finished with a game-high 16 points, scoring five in the Falcons’ third quarter surge, but became the focus of Basil’s defensive surge in the fourth quarter. St. Basil pressed a lot of the game, but started sending extra defenders at McGee in the fourth, forcing some pivotal turnovers that led to easy Basil hoops as the lead started to balloon.
“She was probably tired, we were picking her up full-court,” Mancini said. “We had an idea of what they did. For the most part, we did a good job on her, we put a couple different girls on her but she’s a good player.”
McGee’s drive and kick to Olivia Hoeing led to the basket that cut the Basil lead to 27-23 in the third. The Panthers were reeling a bit, until Remolde found a wide-open Kucowski for a 3-pointer with 2:10 left in the quarter.
“It felt good,” Kucowski said. “It reminded me of our game against Gwynedd in the (AACA) semifinals. But there was still plenty of time left in the game. We had to pick it up on defense, we were letting them get to the rim too easily and we were rushing too much on offense.”
Right after the senior’s trey, a freshman kept the momentum going. Lizzie Deal’s steal and layup put the Basil lead to 32-23 and although Salisbury’s Cailyn Meikrantz hit a 3-pointer to cap the frame, the Panthers had settled down.
Deal scored 11 points off the bench, with eight of them coming in the final 8:50 of play. She hit two massive 3-pointers as part of an 10-1 St. Basil run to open the fourth quarter, her second hit from deep putting the Panthers up 40-27 before Casey Remolde’s foul-line jumper with 4:38 left essentially put the game out of reach.
“I just want to do as much as I can to help the team,” Deal said. “We were down and if we lost, it would have been our seniors’ last game, so I wanted to help them and play well. We want to go in and fill the spots, because our starters are really good so we just want to play as well as them.”
Deal, along with classmate Kelly Grant and senior Kaitlin Dougherty, have formed a good bench core for Mancini this season. Grant added five points on Friday with four rebounds while Deal had three steals and Grant had three boards and two assists.
Kucowski said it’s a relief to have such dependable reserves, but added it’s not fair to ask them to win games on their own and the starters will have to be better going forward. The good news for Basil is that Friday’s win put them in the semifinals and with three teams making states, a loss next round wouldn’t end their season.
Still, the Panthers want to face New Hope-Solebury, also undefeated, in the district championship game and to do that, they can’t expect to play like they did on Friday.
“We can’t afford at this time of the season to have an off game and think we can just pick it up again the next game,” Kucowski said. “Every game counts at this point so we can’t have that mentality going in.”
St. Basil Academy 52, Salisbury 30
Salisbury 7 9 10 4 – 30
St. Basil Academy 12 15 5 20 – 52
Salisbury: Sarah McGee 5 4-6 16, Alicia Burkhardt 1 0-0 3, Caylin Meikrantz 3 0-0 8, Olivia Hoeing 1 0-0 2, Paige Nicolas 0 1-2 1. Totals: 10 5-8 30
St. Basil Academy: Jules Gura 3 2-4 8, Cheryl 2 0-0 6, Casey Remolde 4 1-2 11, Natalie Kucowski 6 0-2 13, Kaitlin Dougherty 2 0-0 5, Lizzie Deal 3 0-0 11. Nonscoring: Maddie Riehman, Kelly Grant. Totals: 21 3-8 52
3-pointers: S – McGee 2, Meikrantz 2, Burkhardt 1; SBA – Deal 3, Cheryl Remolde 2, Casey Remolde 2, Kucowski, Dougherty