BENSALEM >> Garnet Valley needed to make a statement early in its District 1 Class 6A semifinal game with No. 1 Souderton Wednesday night.
The fourth-seeded Jaguars couldn’t afford a letdown. They didn’t have the luxury of shooting 1-for-8 with six turnovers in the opening quarter, thinking they could overcome such woes in the latter stages. And they couldn’t allow the pairing of Kate Connolly and Alana Cardona to run up and down the floor, letting their size, length and elite athleticism to take control.
Souderton had other ideas. And the Indians showed the Jags what makes them so hard to beat.
“It didn’t go our way,” said Nicole Barnes, GV’s outstanding senior point guard, “but I thought we played well and didn’t give up.”
Barnes hit the nail on the head. The Jags didn’t back down from the fight, even when it appeared they were out and down for the count.
Ultimately, an anemic first period doomed the Jags, who suffered a 47-30 defeat in their first appearance among the District 1 final four in program history. Garnet Valley (22-4) will travel to third-seeded Spring-Ford Friday for the opportunity to claim third place in the tournament. Souderton faces No. 2 Central Bucks South in the final at Temple University.
Connolly set the tone with a first eight minutes that showcased her enormous talents. While she didn’t score, Connolly shined in all other areas. She made two steals, handed out two assists, grabbed four rebounds and had two blocked shots. And she excelled guarding Garnet Valley junior Emily McAteer, a 1,000-point scorer. McAteer finished with a team-high 12 points, but Souderton’s penchant for disrupting the Jags flow on offense limited her damage overall.
“We have our offense for when we are being faceguarded,” said Barnes, who added three points, three assists, one steal and one block. “We tried to do a lot of things, move the ball around more and get better shots. We just tried to run the backdoor play and tried to score in different ways.”
The Jags were lucky that Souderton struggled from the floor in the first half, enabling them to stay within striking distance in the opening half. Despite trailing 11-2 after the first period, the Jags eventually went on a 7-2 run and forced Souderton into six first-half turnovers. The Indians (24-2) shot just 8-for-25 from the floor in the opening half.
Souderton found its footing again before halftime, and took a nine-point lead into the break. Garnet got within seven points in the third quarter before the Indians pulled away for good.
“We shot 2-for-16 on 3s tonight and I thought in order to be successful, we have to shoot well,” Souderton coach Lynn Carroll said. “We did not shoot well, but we were still successful. A big part of that is because of the way we played defensively. Offensively, our girls really share the ball well and move it well. No matter what kind of defense the other team is in, you’ve got to work really hard and you have to go after loose balls and get offensive rebounds. I thought we played a pretty solid basketball for 32 minutes, even though the shots weren’t falling.”
What has made Souderton such a dynamic force is its balance on both sides of the ball. The Indians forced 22 Garnet Valley turnovers, including 14 steals. Tori Dowd led the way with six swipes and Connolly added five to go with eight points, eight rebounds and five blocks.
Connolly’s well-rounded game makes her a lethal challenge for teams to match up against. Garnet junior Madi McKee (four points, nine rebounds), however, did help Connolly stay relatively quiet in the second half.
“I guess it’s exciting for me. I’m glad I have this height (6-foot-1) that I can take advantage of,” Connolly said. “That’s always a helper. Growing up and watching a lot of basketball, trying different plays, that helps too. I always try to do something to help my team.”
Cardona led the way with 15 points and Megan Walbrandt tossed in 10.
Souderton had a strategy in place for McAteer and junior forward Brianne Borcky, who was held in check (five points) before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“We have four or five games on Garnet Valley and what those kids have done so far in their career, they are two exceptional players,” Carroll said. “We have exceptional defenders, kids who have been doing this all season long. We have played some of the best players in the state and we have defended them really, really well. We try to keep them in front of you and have help there if they get by you. We have a lot of length and good shot blockers, so that certainly helps. Our girls are smart — they have high basketball IQ — and they love to defend.”
The good news for Garnet Valley is that it has qualified for the PIAA tournament next week. The Jags seem to figure out how to respond from a tough loss. They did it after losing the Central League final to Springfield, and it’s safe to expect a much-improved performance Saturday against Spring-Ford.
“We can’t worry too much about this one,” Barnes said. “We still have (Saturday’s game) and states and we’re looking forward to it.”
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