ABINGTON >> The clock wouldn’t move fast enough for Paige Mott on Tuesday.
Mott, a sophomore forward on the Abington Friends School girls basketball team, couldn’t wait to hit the court with her teammates to begin their Friends Schools League title against Westtown. The Kangaroos let all that pent up energy out in a good way, racing out to a big lead and keeping their cool in the second half.
Mott posted a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, plus five blocks, as the Roos topped the Moose 51-38 to advance to Friday’s title tilt against Moorestown Friends at La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena.
“Today was a really long day, we were all waiting to play this game,” Mott said. “We knew we were going to get to the championship on Friday and we just wanted to get it over with.”
Last year’s FLS champion that was led by three seniors now all on college rosters, while this year’s group of Kangaroos (20-5) is very young. AFS, which is not a PIAA school, has no seniors and three juniors on the roster and on Tuesday, started three sophomores, a freshman and an eighth grader.
Mott also started every game last year, so even as a sophomore, the 6-foot-1 forward has plenty of experience. She, along with teammates Jordan Smith and Zandiyyah Ross-Barnes, created an imposing wall of defense around the rim on Tuesday, which made things very difficult for the Moose.
“We don’t always play like that,” Mott said. “But when we do, we feel like we can beat anybody.”
Up top, sophomore guard Kendall Hodges continued her excellent defensive season by checking Westtown’s fearless point guard Halle Brown. Brown showed little hesitation in going at the Roos’ defense, but Hodges was able to channel her right into the front line and forced plenty of tough shots.
Mihjae Hayes, the team’s eight grade point guard, posted 13 points to tie with Mott for the team lead and helped get her team going on both ends with three assists and three steals.
“It’s almost like everybody’s a year older already, they play a lot of basketball, this is our 25th game so we know each other and know what we have to do,” AFS coach Jeff Bond said. “The other coaches and I on the bench, we try to keep it pretty even keeled too. It doesn’t matter what mistake you make, it matters what you do after it.”
Mott said the players are more family than teammates and the Roos have gotten this far by playing together instead of being a group of individuals. AFS built a 12-1 lead and led 12-3 at the end of the first quarter. Westtown battled and its aggressiveness was rewarded by plenty of foul calls, but AFS still had a dominant 31-12 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, a couple of breakdowns on defense let Moose sharpshooter Emma Diaz can a pair of 3-pointers and her team fed off that energy. Suddenly, a 19-point lead got whittled down to 13, then 10 and then into single digits.
Two free throws by Brown got it within six before Smith closed with two freebies for AFS and a 37-29 lead going into the fourth.
“I think they were supposed to make those shots they were making, but we stayed level-headed,” Mott said. “Normally, we become frantic but in that time, we still felt good.”
Bond said his team is used to close games this season and knew from the regular season meeting that Westtown could put a run together. Throughout the season, the Kangaroos coaches knew their players would make some mistakes but also let them play through those mistakes.
The key to outlasting Westtown’s surge would be composure and Bond felt that the months of games and practice leading to Tuesday would show in his team’s play. Diaz buried another three with 2:28 left in the game to pull the Moose within 43-36, but AFS regained momentum when Hayes flew down the lane, hitting a layup and getting a whistle for a three-point play with 1:33 to go.
“When we’re able to keep our composure and focus, we can be a good team and we saw that today,” Bond said. “They made a run on us and we were able withstand it, score a little and get enough of a lead back we could finish it off.”
Mott has improved on the court, but she’s also grown exponentially as one of the team’s leaders. She’s the talker on defense, making sure her guards know where screens are and directing who needs to be helping. That, as much as any basket, rebound or block, has a huge impact on the game.
The forward admitted she’s been a little surprised how well the Roos have come together this season, but added that anytime someone has a criticism or observation, the rest of the players know it’s meant to help the team. While not initially comfortable being the vocal leader, Mott said she’s gotten comfortable in the role, but wants her teammates to do the same.
“If Kendall sees something, I want her to tell me, just like I’m going to tell her I see something,” Mott said. “Same goes with Jordan or Zaniyyah or anyone else. We’re only going to get better if we’re helping each other to do it.”
Moorestown Friends topped the Kangaroos in their regular season meeting and Bond said his team will have to be at its best defensively if it wants to reverse the outcome. With Mott there to anchor AFS, they’ll have a good chance.
“She really has accepted her role as a leader as a sophomore and that’s a tough role to be in,” Bond said. “She’s the one asking what defense we’re going into, she’s the one urging her teammates on in a really positive way. Accepting that mantle of leadership is tough at a young age but her growth there has been tremendous.”
ABINGTON FRIENDS 51, WESTTOWN 38
WESTTOWN 3 9 17 9 – 38
ABINGTON FRIENDS 15 15 6 14 – 51
Abington Friends: Paige Mott 6 1-4 13, Mihjae Hayes 4 5-7 13, Zaniyyah Ross-Barnes 1 2-2 4,Kendall Hodges 3 1-5 8, Jordan Smith 1 3-4 5, Aby Camarou 1 1-1 3, Siana Wynn 0 2-4 2, Meliah Van-Otoo 1 0-0 3. Totals: 17 15-27 51.
Westtown: Emma Diaz 4 2-4 13, Halle Brown 1 3-4 5, JoJo Lacey 3 4-8 10, Amaya Douglas 1 2-5 4, Ayann Revnell 1 0-0 2, Emily Ellis 1 2-3 4. Totals: 11 13-24 38.
3-pointers: AFS – Hodges, Van-Otoo; W – Diaz 3.
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