Lower Merion >> When District 1 champion Springfield huddled in the locker room at halftime, leading Lampeter-Strasburg, the eighth-place finisher in District 3, by only three points in the opening round of the PIAA 5A state tournament Saturday, the Cougars resolved to fix something immediately.
“We didn’t play our best defense in the first half,” Springfield coach Ky McNichol said. “In the locker room, we talked about needing to lock down defensively in the third quarter — and we did.”
Springfield held Lampeter (20-8) to only five third-quarter points, then pulled away to a 52-41 victory at Harriton High School.
With the win, Springfield (24-4) advances to play Wyoming Valley West (21-4) in the second round of the state tourney Wednesday. On Saturday, the Cougars were primarily concerned with three Lampeter players on offense: 5-7 junior forward Laura Horner, 5-7 senior guard/forward Nevin Hoenninger and 5-7 sophomore guard Emma Gochnauer. The trio was held to 29 combined points.
“We wanted to lock down on defense against Hoenninger and Gochnauer,” McNichol said. “We saw Horner as their best shooter, and we didn’t want to give her any open looks. I thought we did a nice job on Gochnauer.”
“In the first half we were getting stuck on screens,” Springfield senior guard Maggie O’Connell said. “In the third quarter, everyone stayed with our man on defense.”
O’Connell was a key part of the Cougars’ third-quarter surge, hitting a pair of treys early in the period that pushed Springfield’s lead from 26-23 to 32-24. She finished with four treys and 14 points, and was complemented by Alyssa Long (13 points), Jordan D’Ambrosio (12 points) and Belle Mastropietro (10 points).
“We did a great job sharing the ball and knocking down shots,” McNichol said.
D’Ambrosio dished out four assists and grabbed three defensive rebounds. O’Connell and Long combined for 11 rebounds against Lampeter.
The Cougars used their quickness to make several key steals. Their quickness helped them on offense, too.
“We wanted to push the ball and score points in transition,” McNichol said.
Springfield jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, as O’Connell knocked down an opening trey (after five passes), then Mastropietro made back-to-back baskets underneath, the second one following a steal.
Hoenninger nailed a couple of treys at the top of the key to tie the score at 16-16 early in the second quarter. Long came back with a trey from the right side to make it 19-16 and give the Cougars the lead for good, but it was a small lead through the second quarter.
Springfield increased its lead to 34-25 at the end of the third quarter, then Long hit a trey from the left side and an open D’Ambrosio converted from the left corner to give the Cougars a 39-25 lead with 6:50 left.
“All five of our starters were a key part of this win,” McNichol said. “Maggie hit some huge shots, Jordan attacked the basket and played good defense, Alyssa was our floor general, and Belle stepped up big today.”