ROYERSFORD >> The Spring-Ford girls basketball team was always going to be heavily favored in its Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinal against Pope John Paul II.
That became even more true when it was revealed that eight Pope John Paul II players were suspended, including all five starters.
The defending champion Rams had no trouble dispatching the short-handed Golden Panthers, 71-21, on their home floor Saturday evening, earning a return trip to the league championship game.
The Rams featured four players in double figures: sophomore guard Lucy Olsen scored a game-high 18, followed by 14 apiece from senior Cassie Marte and sophomore Hailey Hudak while junior Alyssa Yuan added 10.
According to sources, the eight Pope John Paul II players were suspended due to a video with the players repeating song lyrics that featured a racial slur. The players received one-game suspensions due to the incident but were on the bench at Spring-Ford.
First-year head coach TJ Lonergan was also suspended for the game and was not in attendance. When reached Saturday evening, Lonergan indicated that his punishment did not stem from personal wrongdoing, but was delivered as an example to the players.
Assistant coach John Cherneskie, who led the team Saturday, was not authorized to discuss the suspensions.
Final: Spring-Ford 71, Pope John Paul II 21, PAC girls basketball semifinal. Rams roll into final in unusual circumstance with PJP sitting their top 8 players pic.twitter.com/mlJDZiOaFB
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) February 10, 2019
Spring-Ford (20-2) advances to face Liberty Division rival Methacton (20-4) in the championship game on Wednesday night (7 p.m.) at Spring-Ford.
“I’m excited. Last year was fun and this year it’s so far, so good,” the Rams’ Olsen said. “I’m excited to play with everyone in the championship game. It should be a good game.”
The Rams topped the Warriors twice in the regular season as part of their 16-0 run through the PAC, 41-36 on Dec. 13, 2018, and 48-35 on Jan. 17.
Spring-Ford is yet to lose to a Pennsylvania opponent, its only losses coming at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz. The Rams are No. 4 (a recent drop due to game forfeitures from one of its opponents in Phoenix) in the District 1-6A rankings, trailing only Garnet Valley, Neshaminy and Abington.
The incident around the PJP program led to a non-competitive game despite the best efforts of the Golden Panthers reserves, who performed commendably despite being overmatched by one of the top teams in the state. For PJP, a team-high nine points came from Brooklyn Rogers while other starters included Julie Cherneskie, Haley Jackson, Gianna Cagliola and Lexi Bray.
For Olsen and company, they did their best to not be affected by the unexpected opposition.
“I heard about (the suspensions) earlier in the day, but I just forgot about it,” Olsen said. “I had no idea what was going to happen so whoever shows up to play, I am just going to play them.
“We’re just going to try to win together as a team. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re just going to work together to win.”
“We really look inward and our goal is to get better every day,” Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel said. “Tonight, we did some really good things. Our only job was the get better.”
The Rams shook off an uninspired start and put up a 29-point second quarter for a 43-13 halftime lead. Their defense had 18 steals – five from Olsen and four from Marte – and forced 41 turnovers.
“I think we’re working well together,” Olsen said. We’ve done a lot of team bonding and pick each other up when they’re down.”
Pope John Paul II falls to 14-10 and now awaits its district seeding ahead of the District 1 5A tournament, which begins Feb. 19. PJP entered Saturday ranked No. 11.
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