EAST ROCKHILL >> In a game that swung back and forth, with seven lead changes in the second half, Plymouth-Whitemarsh had the difference maker.
“I turned to the kids at one point in the fourth quarter, when Taylor made one of those great plays,” Colonials coach Dan Dougherty said, “and I said ‘I’m sure glad she’s on our team.’
“Because she’s a special player, and she really took over that fourth quarter to get us the win.”
Taylor O’Brien scored a game-high 31 points and propelled a strong defensive effort in the fourth quarter to lead PW to a 52-46 victory over the host Rams in the Pennridge Memorial Classic Final Saturday evening.
“It’s awesome. Just to start out the season like this shows we have a lot to do this year,” said a smiling O’Brien, shortly after she and her teammates got to pass around the championship trophy, “and we’re excited for more to come.”
Defense allowed the Colonials to take home the hardware, and O’Brien was at the heart of it. Holding tight to a three-point lead with under a minute to go, O’Brien made a steal and took it all the way in, drawing the foul.
She calmly sank her two free throws with 15 seconds to play, making it 51-46. PW got another stop at the other end and Lauren Fortescue added a free throw to lock things up.
Pennridge made eight 3-pointers in the contest, but the Colonials held the Rams scoreless in the fourth until just 1:46 remained.
“Very scrappy,” O’Brien said of the defensive performance. “My girls played really hard and everyone was on high alert. We were talking and everything was just flowing. We got some pretty big stops, which turned into easy offensive points.”
Plymouth-Whitemarsh went ahead for good when Ali Diamond made two foul shots with five minutes to go, making it 43-41. PW led by as many as seven in the fourth until Gill Anderson (team-high 14) hit a three with 1:46 left, slicing it to 48-44.
The Rams’ Emilee Cramer hit a baseline jumper to make it 48-46 with 40 seconds left, but Diamond made one of two free throws and then O’Brien came up with the key steal.
“We’re both fast teams,” Dougherty said. “We both like to run up and down the floor. And a shot that we live and die with giving up sometimes is the transition three-point shot. And in the fourth quarter, we just tried to lock down, play some man defense, and it worked out for us.
“We found a way to win it there at the end,” Dougherty said. “Pennridge is a very good team, a very fast team. They really shot the ball well tonight. They made the eight threes, and most of them were pretty contested. It’s a big win for us, an exciting win. We’re just trying to take little steps.”
O’Brien started the game as strong as she finished it, scoring 13 points in the first quarter to key a 17-15 lead. Pennridge led by one at the half and by three at the end of the third, but O’Brien took over in the fourth.
“It’s the old saying, ‘big-time players make big-time plays in big spots,’” Dougherty said, “and that’s what she did right there.”
Freshman Anna McTamney made a nice contribution, scoring on a rebound to widen the Colonial lead to 45-41 midway through the fourth.
“That was a huge putback that she had,” Dougherty said. “That really took a lot of pressure off of every possession. When it’s a one-possession game, everybody feels tight.
“But when you stretch it to four points, you can play a little bit more free on defense, and for a freshman, her second varsity game, to put that ball in for us was a big play for us too.”
Five different players hit threes for Pennridge, including two each by Anderson, Evelyn Loughery and Cramer.
The Rams used an 8-0 run — capped by an Anderson three — to go charging into the fourth, up 41-38.
But then PW didn’t allow the Rams to hit again until under two minutes remained.
“I think it’s probably our inexperience, in that position, against a team of that magnitude,” Pennridge coach Mike Elton said. “We got in a little bit of foul trouble at the end, and that didn’t help. But it comes down to being used to that situation.”
The Colonials (2-0) and Rams (1-1) both came away from this weekend feeling they had been tested.
“Awesome test,” Elton said. “I am so glad we did this. It gives me an idea, it gives (the team) an idea what they’re capable of, so we’ll build on that.”
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