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Penncrest improving by cuts and rebounds

SHARON HILL >> One game does not a season make, but Penncrest sure looked impressive in its debut.

You can attribute the Lions’ success Friday to the fact that this team, as coach Bob Higgins will attest, is better across the board. Better shooters, better rebounders, better defenders.

“We put in a lot of hard work,” senior center Grace Harding said.

It shows.

With a 58-46 victory against Academy Park, Penncrest made something clear. The Lions are a well-coached team that can shoot at a high efficiency and move the ball around. This is not a slow and plodding and take-your-time-with-the-ball team.

This is a team that will give its Central League opponents fits of rage.

The Lions connected on back-door cuts, time and time again, and balanced their point distribution. And everyone on the court contributed.

Junior guard Annalee Doyle has caught the eye of Higgins. He says Doyle is a perfect example of a kid who simply improved by leaps and bounds. She was rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup Friday night.

The same praise can be levied to 5-7 junior forward Megan Arndt, who has the potential to be a special player. Arndt scored a team-high 17 points on 6 of 12 shooting from the field. She was a rebound shy of a double-double.

And then there is the senior leadership of Harding, a 5-9 forward, and combo guard Kat Mullaney. They have been on varsity since they were freshmen.

“We are counting on them,” Higgins said. “We have three really good seniors in Grace, Kat and Julia (Eckels).”

You don’t have to squint to notice that this year’s Penncrest squad looks a lot like last’s. The 2016-17 team began the season with seven consecutive wins, but stumbled in the middle of the season and never got back on track.

“We know it’s a long season,” Mullaney said.

“That’s what we talked about for this year — this is it and we’re in it for the long haul,” Higgins said. “I expect to be in this for a long time and I expect the team believes that as well.”

Harding was a dominant force under the basket, pairing eight rebounds with 15 points. Mullaney had a stellar floor game with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. She found Arndt and Kylie Chelo (nine points, three assists) cutting the lane for easy baskets.

Penncrest shot 52 percent in the first half and scored 37 points. By late in the third period, the Lions had extended their lead to 20 points and never looked back, despite a spirited effort in the fourth quarter by the Knights, who struggled from the free-throw line (14-for-33) and from 3-point distance (3-for-24). Penncrest used a 16-5 run in the third quarter to put things out of reach.

“We were being patient with our offense,” Harding said. “It’s just our style of play. We knew playing them was going to be a tough game.”

One player the Lions focused on was Mahya Woodton, the Knights’ outstanding senior guard. Although Woodton did a ton of damage (24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals), the Lions were able to limit her impact on the final score because of their execution in all phases.

“We knew she was going to score and we tried to have two people in the paint because she’s coming at you,” Higgins said. “She is so good. When you talk about some of the really good players in the area, in Delaware County, that kid we played from Academy Park … she is so good.”

Woodton knows the Knights have to correct the negatives — foul shooting, turnovers, et al — and believes they will in due time. Academy Park is the reigning co-Del Val League champion and expects to be celebrating another title in February.

“We actually hit more foul shots in practice than we did today. Maybe people were nervous … and I missed a lot,” said Woodton, who is drawing college interest from Millersville. “They passed the ball and the back-door cuts, everything. They did a lot of that. They are good.”

Taylor Flores added 10 points and six rebounds, while Anissa Fleming grabbed 11 boards for the Knights.

“Everybody has a bad game now and then,” Woodton said. “Hopefully this is our first and last bad game.”

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