RADNOR >> The shots weren’t falling in. They were barely clipping the rim.
Springfield might have been dreaming a thousand different scenarios to begin the District 1 Class 5A championship game at Villanova’s Pavilion playground, but through the first six minutes of Saturday’s date with Mount St. Joseph, nothing was going the Cougars’ way.
Springfield started 0-for-10 from the field and was being outworked on the boards. Suddenly, sophomore Jordan D’Ambrosio made a play. Down six, the Cougars remained in search of their first points. They leaned on one of their two sensational sophomores to spark the fire.
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At the top of the key, D’Ambrosio dribbled and surveyed the court. She moved in, pivoted twice, and shot a one-handed floater for two points. There would be no shutout. In fact, the Cougars were only getting started.
“I think we were just nervous in the beginning,” D’Ambrosio said. “But then we kind of came together. … The jitters were gone and we were like, ‘OK, let’s settle in.’”
It took a little while, but the Cougars put everything together. They were poised to go home district champions for the first time in program history.
With heart and determination, top-seeded Springfield accomplished its mission with a 37-28 victory over No. 7 Mount St. Joseph. Of course, D’Ambrosio was in the middle of it all, leading the way with a game-high 14 points.
She converted a three-point play early in the fourth quarter to give Springfield its final lead. She was involved in many big plays throughout the Cougars’ run to the district crown. It wasn’t all about her. On this Springfield team, which lives by the motto “together,” it never is about one person. The Cougars won with a collective effort.
Senior forward Amanda Hopkins canned a 3-pointer moments after D’Ambrosio’s go-ahead basket. Senior guard Maggie O’Connell was clutch at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Belle Mastropietro — the other half of Springfield’s dynamic sophomore duo — spurred an 8-1 run in the third quarter by scoring all six of her points in that period. Freshman guard Alyssa Long was outstanding on defense. Erika Biehl came off the bench and contributed with a little offense and defense.
The Cougars hadn’t been to a district final in eight years, and as recently as three years ago, endured a 15-loss campaign under then-first-year head coach Ky McNichol.
“One thing we talked about all season was not hanging our heads when things go wrong, fighting back and picking up our teammates,” McNichol said. “That first quarter did not go our way, but they worked and worked.”
Saturday’s victory was the culmination of two-plus seasons worth of rebuilding.
“Last year when we lost our first game (in districts), we kind of all said that we were going to come back and win it all,” said Mastropietro, who finished with six points, four rebounds, two assists and one steal. “It’s such a great feeling.”
Despite being outrebounded in the first half, 21-7, the Cougars (23-4) went into the locker room tied 12-12. Mastropietro heated up in the third quarter as Springfield jumped in front, 20-13.
Springfield was 5-for-12 from the field in the second quarter to get back into the game. D’Ambrosio had six points in the stanza.
“Once we … kicked off the jitters and settled in, we were good to go,” Hopkins said. “I think once we started the second quarter, it really showed that our jitters were all gone.”
What helped Springfield, especially when the shots weren’t dropping in the first half, was its stingy defensive effort. The Cougars defense forced the Magic (13-13) to commit nine turnovers in the opening half.
Grace Gelone (nine points, seven rebounds) and Julie Hoover (nine points) carried the Magic offensively, but 1,000-point scorer and forward Ashley Smith (two points) was neutralized.
“Their defense was very good,” first-year MSJ coach Claire Perry said. “They denied Ashley and Julie got frustrated. It was all about high-percentage shots. That was the outcome that we wanted. I felt like we had the same exact game plan, between Springfield and us. I wish we could have continued with that and stayed composed, but they did. It was mainly trying to get those high-percentage shots … but we couldn’t get them to fall.”
Springfield connected from the free-throw line down the stretch to seal the win. The Cougars went 12-for-18 at the
charity stripe in the final quarter.
Maggie O’Connell walked around with the District 1 trophy after the game. She would be lying if she said she predicted a championship season two years ago, when the Cougars won only six games.
“It’s amazing, especially for this senior class,” she said.
Hopkins chimed in with this anecdote:
“As sophomores,” she said, “we were celebrating a win against Upper Darby by one point. So we came pretty far.”
Yes, they have.
Top photo: Springfield senior co-captains, from left, Maggie O’Connell, Amanda Hopkins and Erika Biehl celebrate with the District 1 trophy (photo by Pete Bannan)