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Rustin’s early lead vanishes in loss to Harrisburg

By Jeff Dewees

ENOLA >> Early success did not translate to victory.

West Chester Bayard Rustin fell in the first round of the PIAA 5A girls’ basketball playoffs Friday night to Harrisburg, 58-36. The Golden Knights’ season ended with a 16-11 mark.

For 16 minutes, however, the outcome was in doubt. Rustin opened up an early 14-6 lead on the 22-3 Cougars — the second-seeded team out of District 3 — with an opportunistic, balanced effort at both ends of the floor. Maggie O’Hare and Lexi Zavitsky feature prominently, with each hitting a 3-pointer while exhibiting solid defense and the ability to hit the glass.

That began to change in the second quarter, when Harrisburg forward Dajahnae Brannon spearheaded a Cougars’ attack that began to settle down and find the open spots on the floor. Brannon scored consecutive baskets midway through the second quarter to give Harrisburg a 20-18 lead — its first since a brief 4-3 foray in the opening minutes — and establish an advantage the Cougars would not surrender the rest of the way.

Brannon did the power work down low, freeing up guard Ahmya Woodyard to roam either from the perimeter or flash to the paint. Woodyard scored six of her 13 points during the second quarter — second to Brannon’s team-high 17 — and Harrisburg took a 26-22 lead into the locker room at half.

The third quarter is where things began to fall apart for Rustin, District 1’s fourth seed. The Knights did not hit a field goal during the stanza, scoring all five of their points from the free throw line. During the same time frame, Harrisburg ripped off 17 points to take control of the game at 43-25.

It was an outage from which the Knights could not recover. O’Hare and Zavitsky were held to four points after the break; Rustin’s only other source of offense came from Erin Gallagher, with five. Gallagher led the Knights with 13 points, but eight of those came in the first half. O’Hare had nine for the game and Zavitsky eight.

The Cougars pressured Rustin on the ball at several junctions during the contest and the pressure paid off — Harrisburg really began to run off the turnovers in the second half, sensing the kill. That transition game was too much for Rustin to handle.

The floor opened up and as it did, so did the margin. Harrisburg was able to push the margin to as high as 50-27 midway through the final quarter. A continued inside presence from Brannon, along additional perimeter assistance from Kira Merritt — whose major contribution to that point was a first-half buzzer-beating 3-pointer — with six points fueled the late surge.

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