SPRINGFIELD >> You’ll have to forgive Rachel Conran for being excited while she was in the middle of a big game Tuesday night.
The freshman guard from Springfield hit a 3-point field goal, thwarting a fourth-quarter run by Radnor. On the clutch scale, it rated about an 8 or 9.
Springfield needed an answer to Radnor’s late rally and Conran delivered. Seconds earlier, Julia Rigolizzo banked the Raiders’ second 3-pointer in as many possessions to trim the Cougars’ lead to five with six minutes to play in the game.
Conran is a key role player on Springfield, but a trusted shooter and a big part of the club’s future. She made the most of her opportunities in a must-win game.
“I tried so hard not to run back, smiling,” Conran said. “Just helping the team, doing whatever I can to help us win.”
After Conran’s basket, No. 9 Radnor never could overcome the gap, despite its best efforts. Fourth-seeded Springfield held on for a 53-45 victory to clinch a spot in next week’s PIAA Class 5A tournament.
The Central League rivals met on the final day of the regular season earlier this month. Springfield put up a season-high 75 points in a lopsided victory.
The Cougars realized that Radnor, which had qualified for the state tournament in three of the previous four years, wouldn’t go down quietly Tuesday.
“Coach (Ky McNichol) talked to us before, saying they are a much better team,” said Conran, who was 3-for-4 from the floor with eight points, one rebound and one assist. “We knew they were going to put up a fight with us.”
Springfield (20-7) found itself in a dire spot after falling to Mount St. Joseph by a point in the District 1 Class 5A quarterfinals. Denied the chance to repeat as district champs, the Cougars had something to prove against the Raiders.
“We had an off day to regroup. We had to pick our heads up because that loss kind of took a toll on us a little bit,” Conran said. “We came out and played hard and now we’re going to states.”
Springfield junior Jordan D’Ambrosio and Radnor sophomore Ellie Mueller each scored a game-high 21 points. Coincidentally, they both did all of their damage after the first quarter. D’Ambrosio shot 6 of 8 from the foul line in the fourth period and 12 of 14 overall. Meanwhile, Mueller was unstoppable inside the paint, and grabbed eight rebounds.
“No one was really happy after the last time and we were hoping we could at least give them a good fight,” Mueller said. “Whenever I was on the court, I was trying my best to fight through every second. I know we had runs where we struggled a little bit, but it was important to keep everyone up and focused. Everyone creates opportunities for each other and that’s what I love about our team. We’re all working hard, not for ourselves but for one another.”
Rigolizzo, a reserve player, and starting guards Brienne Williams (six points) and Audrey Rosenblum (six points, three assists) made baskets when the Raiders were storming back from a double digits in the final quarter. All five starters, including forward Holly Holtsberg (eight rebounds), will return next season. That gives Radnor something to look forward to following a 15-win campaign.
“(Springfield is) obviously really talented, but I feel like we are just as athletic as them and we can run with them,” Mueller said. “We try to focus on shutting down their shooters. I felt like we got pretty close tonight.
“We have our whole starting lineup coming back next season. We’re pretty excited for that.”
In the end, as Radnor coach Mark Jordan admitted, Springfield had the better overall team. But he was proud of the Raiders’ relentlessness following a slow start, low-lighted by a 1-for-8 shooting performance in the opening quarter. Radnor excelled on defense, particularly in the second half, forcing a Springfield team not prone to making mistakes into eight turnovers.
“Good luck to Springfield in states. They are the better team. I think if they get through the first game in states, they’ll go to the finals,” Jordan said.
“We’re not (Cardinal O’Hara coach) Linus (McGinty) Jr., we don’t have a bunch of Division I kids flying around out there. We have a bunch of scrappy girls. The girls fought through that chasm, whatever the heck that was, in the first half and really scrapped the heck out of it. We got it to within five points, we played them tough. We feel like we have a lot of room to grow next year. We’ll be back and better.”
Belle Mastropietro added 10 points, nine rebounds and two steals for the Cougars, another fine well-rounded game by the junior. Freshman guard Alexa Abbonizio drilled three of Springfield’s eight 3-point field goals and finished with 11 points. Alyssa Long dished out three assists and made three free throws down the stretch to help seal the win for the Cougars, who host No. 10 Upper Merion in the fifth-and sixth-place game Friday.
“The Mount loss was really tough, but we were able to regroup and think about it,” Long said. “We just had to know, it wasn’t over. That loss didn’t end our season. It just put us in a different path to get to states. We found a way to get there and now we get to come back on Friday and then do something big in states.”
Springfield 53, Radnor 45
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