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Souderton’s passing, defense too much for Abington

Souderton's Tori Dowd lays up a shot past Abington's Kassondra Brown during their game on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

ABINGTON >> For most of Thursday night, Souderton looked like it did nine months ago when it was cutting a path through the PIAA 6A girls basketball tournament.

Considering the Indians returned all eight of their top rotation players from last season, it wasn’t surprising to see them playing with such continuity, but it was still rather impressive. Slinging passes on offense until a wide-open shot emerged, grappling on the glass and grinding defensively, it was a complete effort by Souderton.

Dictating the game from the opening tip, Souderton edged Abinton 53-36, getting both a payback and sending a message to everyone that happened to be in the Ghosts’ gym Thursday.

“I think this was the first game where we played all four quarters,” Indians senior point guard Tori Dowd said. “The past three games we had played well, but this game was more intense and gave us a new challenge. We met the challenge. Coming off of losing to them in the postseason last year definitely gave us some fire.”

Souderton’s Megan Walbrandt tries to push her way to the basket past Abington’s Kassondra Brown during their game on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Souderton (4-0) won the opening tip and turned it into an assisted basket to Megan Walbrandt, setting a theme for the rest of the game. The Indians made 19 field goals on Thursday and assisted 14 of them, stringing up a number of passing sequences that likely would have gotten a nod of approval from the San Antonio Spurs.

Bringing all of last season’s main players back has certainly given Souderton a leg up early in the season, but none of it works unless the players are willing to share the ball. Dowd, who dished out five assists, is supposed to set up teammates as the point guard, but when everyone on the floor is a threat, she’s fine if it’s the fifth or sixth pass that sets up the bucket.

“It’s a veteran team who is as unselfish as any team I’ve ever coached or that exists, I think,” Souderton coach Lynn Carroll said. “They are so smart defensively and our offense execution is getting better every day. It seems like they were ready to make a statement tonight and I think that they did.”

The aesthetic appeal of Souderton’s passing is definitely more in the eye of the beholder during the actual playing of games, but Dowd said when the team watches film, they appreciate the better sequences they string together.

Alana Cardona led Souderton with 19 points and Kate Connolly added 16, hitting a late first quarter 3-pointer to put the Indians up 13. It never felt like Souderton was forcing shots, although in the moment, the players sometimes wonder if they’re passing too much.

“Everyone’s so hectic and sometimes after like five passes you’re thinking ‘do we need to get a shot off?’ but our team is really good at keeping composure and knowing when the right shot is,” Dowd said. “This season, we’re also doing a lot better at not forcing shots and finding good ones.”

After Abington’s 13-0 fourth quarter run, Dowd was able to find Megan Bealer for a wide-open layup under the hoop, not only ending the run, but just settling Souderton down for the stretch run. It was another mark of a veteran, unselfish group.

“Basketball, each team is going to make runs but finding plays like that to get us going again, I think it really fired us up,” Dowd said.

Soudereton’s Alana Cardona sends up a shot past Abington’s Miranda Liebtag during their game on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

GHOSTS STILL GROWING

It’s been a trend the past few years that the Abington team that starts the season is a lot different from the one playing at the end of the season.

Even though this year’s Ghosts team only lost one player from last year’s district title squad, they’re still learning how to handle that target on their backs. Thursday was their first example of that, with a Souderton team they beat in the district tournament coming into their gym eager for payback.

“We’re not very good again right now,” Abington coach Dan Marsh said. “We have a lot of work to do defensively. Souderton, they’re very good, they’re very well-coached, they were super prepared for us, they had the revenge factor, all of those things. They whooped out butts and there’s no getting around it.”

Save for a few minutes in the second half of the fourth quarter, Abington just couldn’t keep up with Souderton. Early, the Ghosts’ full-court pressuring defense almost came up with a couple of steals, but almost isn’t a steal. Against a team like Souderton, it led to numerical advantages and plenty of easy hoops for the Indians.

Likewise, Souderton’s length was problematic for Abington’s offense. The Ghosts shot 13-of-41 and also turned the ball over 18 times with Big Red’s long arms and quick feet causing a lot of disruptions.

Center Kassondra Brown led the Ghosts with 15 points, but she was also well-defended with Abington giving her plenty of respect.

“When you’re playing a team that has a kid like Kassondra Brown, she demands a lot of attention and we think she needs to be fronted with some weakside help,” Carroll said. “Our help defense was very good tonight and when it wasn’t, they scored.”

Abington is probably only going to go about seven deep this season, so they don’t have a lot of room for error on either side of the floor. Marsh also said the team has to start using practices more efficiently and productively, especially after its 1-2 start.

The different between Thursday’s loss and Saturday’s loss to Germantown Academy was the pace.

Abington’s Kassondra Brown fouls Souderton’s Alana Cardona as she shoots during their game on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

“There’s zero chance of beating Souderton if we let them dictate the game and they dictated from start to finish,” Marsh said. “We played GA, and they’re every bit as talented as Souderton, they have four D(ivision) I kids but we dictated the pace and that’s why we were in the game.”

It’s extremely early and Abington usually rounds itself into form, but if the Ghosts needed any motivation, they got it on Thursday.

“I told our kids there were 15 other coaches in the stands and they’re all going to think they can whip your butts the same way if they play like Souderton did,” Marsh said. “Fortunately, they don’t all have those tools. It’s December and we’re not very good, so we have a long ways to go.”

DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE

Defense is hard work, it’s not exactly glamorous and it gets overlooked a lot in favor of good offense.

Dowd and her teammates however, don’t mind getting after it on that end of the floor. Given their schedule and their goals, they have to.

“We love defense, we like working hard and frustrating other players,” Dowd said. “We don’t have as good offensive games if we’re not playing good defense so it inspires us.”

In the team’s second game against St. Basil, it couldn’t buy a basket from outside but the Indians kept grinding on defense and ended up coming back to win in the second half. A night before, they held Lansdale Catholic to nine second half points after a slow start defensively and for the most part, they had Abington’s offense in a fit Thursday.

Bealer was the perfect example on Thursday, coming up with a team-high nine rebounds and three steals while Dowd, Cardona and Walbrandt all had two steals.

“It starts with our on-the-ball defense, and with the mindset being ‘my kid’s not going to beat me and I don’t want my teammate to have to help,’” Carroll said.

SOUDERTON 53, ABINGTON 36
SOUDERTON 18 12 15 8 – 53
ABINGTON 5 12 4 15 – 36
Souderton: Alana Cardona 7 4-4 19, Kate Connolly 5 4-4 16, Megan Walbrandt 2 3-6 7, Tori Dowd 3 0-0 2, Megan Bealer 2 0-0 5. Nonscoring: Megan O’Donnell, Curran O’Donnell. Totals: 19 11-14 53.
Abington: Kassondra Brown 5 5-7 15, Sam Brusha 2 2-4 7, Cam Lexow 2 0-0 6, Miranda Liebtag 2 0-0 4, Brit James 1 0-0 2, Tamia Wessels 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Jordyn Allen. Totals: 13 7-11 36.
3-pointers: S – Connolly 2, Cardona, Bealer; A – Lexow 2, Brusha.

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