By NEIL GEOGHEGAN
WEST CHESTER – There are good starts and bad starts, but what happened in the first half of Tuesday’s District 1 Class 5A girls’ basketball consolation game should have its own category. It was that extraordinary.
It’s difficult to know where to begin: with host West Chester Henderson, who played well in just about every phase; or with a proud Villa Maria program that endured an absolutely nightmarish start and evening. The Hurricanes turned the ball over at a prodigious rate, fell behind by 23 points after one quarter and went on to fall to the Warriors, 66-24.
“I looked up at the scoreboard in the last 30 seconds and it was like, ‘oh my goodness,’” acknowledged Henderson senior standout Emma Bertrando.
With the win, second-seeded Henderson (18-8 overall) has now assured itself a spot in the upcoming PIAA Tournament and will play the Radnor-Penn Wood winner on Friday for fifth place in the district tournament.
“These kids have come so far in the past three years,” said Warriors’ head coach Greta Neff. “To put this program back on the map — where it should be — means a lot to each of us. We are working on something and these kids are showing the younger kids the way.”
It will be Henderson’s first appearance in the state tournament in eight years, and the first under Neff.
“We really wanted this game and we really wanted to bounce back from our loss (to Mount St. Joseph’s) on Friday,” Bertrando said.
“To see the way they bounced back and to really hand it to a good opponent, to say I am proud of our team is an understatement,” Neff added. “These kids are resilient.”
The other end of the spectrum was Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney, who had a look of disbelief on her face for much of the evening. The Hurricanes season ends with a 16-10 mark.
“I am trying very hard to forget about this game already,” she said. “In my almost 30 years of coaching, we’ve never had the mercy rule invoked on us, but this was close.”
The Warriors were active on defense, and their full-court pressure was very effective, but the Hurricanes committed turnovers in every conceivable way – 31 in all. And it commenced right from the start when Villa Maria turned it over on eight of its first nine possessions and fell behind 11-0. And to make a bad situation even worse, the ’Canes didn’t score again until the deficit had grown to 31-2.
“The first five possessions of the game, we don’t even get a shot to the rim, we turn it over and it just kind of snowballed from there,” McCartney explained. “We missed a bunch of layups, foul shots – it was just a disaster from start to finish.”
By the half, Villa Maria had amassed 25 giveaways, shot just 26 percent from the field, and Henderson’s lead ballooned to 42-12.
“Our defense was extra good today. We work hard on it and it paid off,” said Bertrando, who led all scorers with 23.
“The big thing for us is getting baskets so we can pressure,” Neff added. “We’ve won a lot of basketball games using it, so it was nice. We also got after a lot of loose balls, which was helpful.”
Any chance for a miracle comeback was thwarted when the Warriors scored 10 of the first 12 points in the second half. The offensive woes for Villa were obvious, but the defensive breakdowns were just as troubling. In the first half alone, the Hurricanes were whistled for 16 fouls and Henderson buried 20 of 26 from the line.
“Coach always says that foul shots win games and it can get (our opponent) in foul trouble,” said Bertrando, who knocked down 10 of 11.
“Our goal was to attack the basket and get to the line and hopefully get to their bench early,” Neff added.
To complicate things, Villa Maria was unable to make a single free throw, going 0-for-9 for the game. The ’Canes three starting backcourt players combined to score just two points. Erin DiDonato came off the bench to lead Villa with nine points.
“I thought we were ready to go,” McCartney said. “We had a good practice (Monday), went over the press-break. I never expected this to happen.
“I don’t know what to say. I feel badly for the seniors, who had their careers end on a game like this. There is just no way to break a game like this down.”
In addition to Bertrando, Henderson’s frontcourt of Abbey Shea and Viktoria Kneis were dominant. Shea finished with 15 points and Kneis scored all 10 of her points in the first half.
“It’s been awhile, so we are very happy to get this far. It’s been a goal to get to states since the start of the season,” Bertrando said.
“A lot credit goes to Henderson,” McCartney added. “They hit shots and they played well. We just weren’t ready.
“The game was pretty much over at the half, so we told our kids to play for the name on the front of their uniform.”
West Chester Henderson 66, Villa Maria 24
VILLA MARIA – Warley 1 0-0 2; DiDonato 4 0-2 9; Picinich 1 0-0 2; S. Smith 1 0-0 3; Gillinb 0 0-2 0; Gilbertson 0 0-2 0; Broadhurst 1 0-2 2; Lauder 3 0-1 6. Totals 11 0-9 24.
W.C. HENDERSON – DePrisco 1 1-2 3; Kneis 4 2-3 10; Torrance 0 2-2 2; A. Smith 1 0-0 2; Bertrando 6 10-11 23; Cullinan 2 0-2 4; Shea 5 5-6 15; Armarant 2 0-0 4; Meredith 1 0-0 3. Totals 22 20-26 66.
Villa Maria 2 10 6 6 – 24
W.C. Henderson 25 17 14 10 – 66
Three-pointers: Meredith, Bertrando, DiDonato, S. Smith.