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Abington rallies back, tops Plymouth Whitemarsh for District 1-6A title

RADNOR >> It appeared Abington’s press, up-tempo style had finally found its Kryptonite.

It’s name was Taylor O’Brien. Plymouth Whitemarsh’s indomitable junior guard had her way with the Galloping Ghosts in the first half of the District 1-6A girls championship Saturday night at Villanova.

So, Abington had to stop doing what had gotten it to the Main Line. It worked out as the Ghosts rallied out of a double-digit halftime hole to take a 62-57 win over PW and claim their first district title since 2010.

“(Abington coach Dan Marsh) just told us we’re not out of this game, don’t worry about the score, when we go out there and play we’ll be fine,” Abington’s sole senior, Lizzie O’Leary, said. “The score at halftime wasn’t going to determine how we played.”

O’Brien scored 30 points with 10 rebounds, five assists and five steals in a remarkable individual effort. She was a one-player press break in the first half, getting to the rim with ease and either scoring or dropping a pass for an easy look.

By the break, PW led 36-25 with O’Brien having scored 17 on 6-of-8 shooting.

Marsh gave the Colonials (25-2) plenty of props for their offensive gameplan and in particular noted the play of O’Brien.

“O’Brien was killing us in space, like literally murdering us,” Marsh said. “They had a brilliant gameplan. They were attacking the gaps and going right at Lizzie to get her in foul trouble. I thought coming in here, if it came down to it, we could play them in a halfcourt. We didn’t want to, but I felt we had to go halfcourt in the second half.”

Members of the Abington girls basketball teams and the cheerleaders take to the court to celebrate Saturday’s win over Plymouth Whitemarsh in the District One Class 6A championship on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Sam Stewart/Digital First Media)

That Abington (22-5) was going to press was no surprise to Colonials coach Dan Dougherty.

“We have four press-breaks that we came into the game with just so we could not let (Abington) get used to one or the other and we wanted to come out and press them,” Dougherty said. “With the size disparity we wanted to show we weren’t afraid to play up-tempo and it worked to our advantage.”

O’Brien was great in the first half, but her teammates also did their share. Lauren Fortescue had seven of her 10 before the break and dished a pair of first half assists while Lauren Coscia kept finding open space on Abington’s rotations for nine points.

“Anytime you have Taylor O’Brien with a full head of steam going up the floor in a two-on-one, I will take that every day of the week,” Dougherty said. “It worked to our advantage most of the game.”

Abington was on its heels, but not out of the game thanks to the first half shooting of junior Sam Brusha. The guard poured in 13 points in the opening half, giving the Ghosts enough to at least stay afloat.

“If she hadn’t made those shots, it would have been different,” O’Leary said. “But she made them like she does and the were huge. They tried to take her away a little bit in the second half but we were able to capitalize.”

With O’Brien shredding the defense, Abington point guard Britney James switched onto her AAU teammate and helped to slow down the PW junior. James’ work on defense paid off in the long run, as sophomore Cam Lexow, the Ghosts’ usual defensive stopper, was able to pick up a few pointers.

“She’s the most difficult player I’ve had to defend,” Lexow said. “I had trouble adjusting to defending her. Britney James switched over, so I watched Brit and what she was doing and how she was leveling off so O’Brien couldn’t get by.”

Marsh challenged O’Leary to come out in the second half and take over the game, which the senior center did on the glass. O’Leary had 17 rebounds for the game with 13 coming after the break. It was good planning by Abington, with O’Brien favoring the left-handed drive, most PW misses were going long off the opposite side to the waiting O’Leary.

The Ghosts defense was stifling in the second half, holding PW to 0-of-13 shooting from the floor in the third quarter and keeping the Colonials to a 1-of-17 spell stretching into the fourth quarter.

PW has played a tight rotation all season and while Dougherty didn’t want to use it as an excuse, the Colonials did look tired in the second half. O’Brien in particular didn’t as much spring in her step until finding a second wind late in the fourth quarter when she tried to will her team back.

“We had to stop her driving so much and make her try to shoot the ball or give it up,” James said. “We had to play our game instead of play their game. We came in thinking we were going to press them and stop them there but O’Brien got through it and that’s what hurt us a lot.”

Abington’s Sam Brusha shoots over the defense of Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Ali Diamond during the District One Class 6A championship game on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Sam Stewart/Digital First Media)

James hit a 3-pointer with 15.6 left in the third that put Abington up 43-41 heading into the fourth. The shot was in the middle of a 13-0 Ghosts run into the fourth that put Abington in front for good. That, coupled with a couple of stellar defensive plays by Lexow and James delivered Abington is first title in six years.

When it came time to close the game, the Ghosts delivered with an 11-of-14 showing from the foul line in the final quarter of play.

“I felt like we just squeezed the ball a little bit,” Dougherty said. “The kids lost focus when they came out and weren’t pressing us. We turned the ball over three of our last four possessions. Listen, lots of credit to Abington. We talk about respect your opponent but don’t fear them and I think we’re right there with them.”

Abington 62, Plymouth Whitemarsh 57
Abington 12 13 18 19 – 62
Plymouth Whitemarsh 15 21 5 16 – 57
Abington: Britney James 2 4-4 10, Cam Lexow 4 0-0 9, Lizzie O’Leary 3 4-5 10, Kassondra Brown 4 5-6 13, Sam Brusha 5 2-3 14, Tamia Wessels 1 0-0 3, Micheala Coyle 1 0-0 3. Nonscoring: Liebtag. Totals: 19 15-18 62
Plymouth Whitemarsh: Taylor O’Brien 9 12-17 30, Lauren Fortescue 4 1-6 10, Ali Diamond 1 0-0 3, Laurel Suchsland 1 0-0 3, Lauren Coscia 4 1-1 9, Haley Zygmunt 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Betterly. Totals: 19 14-24 57
3-pointers: A – Brusha 2, James 2, Lexow, Wessels, Coyle; PW – Fortescue, Diamond, Suchsland

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