LOWER MERION — In terms of size and all-around skill, few teams in the area can match up with Garnet Valley.
Certainly, the Emily McAteer-Brianne Borcky combo has presented nightmares to many teams ever since the four-year varsity standouts were freshmen. Just one Central League team — Springfield — has figured out a way to beat Garnet Valley during that span.
In last year’s Central League final, Springfield capitalized on several Garnet Valley turnovers (14 of them after the first quarter), hit timely shots and held McAteer and Borcky to a quiet 15 points each. The result? Garnet Valley’s incredible streak of four consecutive Central League championships was over, and Springfield’s reign had begun.
“We never forgot last year,” McAteer said Wednesday, “and ever since the first day of practice, we did everything we could to get it back.”
The Jags’ comeback mission, initiated in offseason open gyms, was completed Wednesday night at Harriton. GV’s all-senior starting lineup of McAteer, Borcky, Jillian Nagy, Morgan Falcone and Madi McKee captured their third Central League title with a 57-52 victory.
Borcky and McAteer were excellent down the stretch, combining for 21 of Garnet Valley’s 30 points in the fourth quarter.
While McAteer posted up, secured missed shots and generally dominated inside the paint, Borcky was 9-for-10 at the free-throw line. Nagy was instrumental to the Jags’ success, as well. The shooting guard had five of her 14 points in the final quarter.
“I think we had to use our height to our advantage, and Emily was the one making all of her shots inside,” said Borcky, who finished with 13 points, five rebounds and a block. “We wanted to push it in to her most of the time, but we relied on each other. It was all five of us.”
McAteer scored 27 points, including a dozen in the fourth, and grabbed 10 rebounds. She was sensational all night.
After Nagy’s layup tied the game at 32, McAteer made back-to-back baskets, including a three-point play, to put the Jags ahead for good. Borcky then hit two free throws to give GV a 39-32 advantage, and Springfield couldn’t catch up. After the Cougars relinquished the lead, the closest they got was five points the rest of the way.
McAteer and Borcky, who are expected to do awesome things every time they step on the court, ensured the team would not go home empty-handed. And they did it without the McKee, the 6-2 forward who dazzled in the Jags’ regular season finale against Haverford. McKee was in foul trouble from the start and was held to one basket before fouling out early in the fourth quarter.
“That’s the good thing about our team, we can always rely on other people to fill in spots,” McAteer said. “Losing Madi was definitely a hard thing, but we can always count on our teammates.”
“We need to keep relying on each other,” Borcky said. “I thought we shared the ball so well in this game.”
Falcone, who battled through an injury, did not make a field goal but made her presence felt on the defensive end and supplied six assists.
“It makes us so happy that we have the ability to have all of these great players who have been able to win all these years,” Falcone said. “We didn’t want to have the same feeling that we had last year. That’s actually something we were talking about at halftime. That feeling we had last year, we didn’t want to feel that again, which is why we had to come out for the second half with a lot of energy.”
The biggest threat for Garnet Valley on defense was limiting the long ball and disrupting Springfield’s attempts to drive the lane.
“They are a tough team because they have people who can shoot and ball-handle,” Falcone said. “I give them a lot of credit because … they still compete with us and find other ways to defend us even though they’re not as tall as we are.”
The game was bitter-sweet for four-year Springfield starter Belle Mastropietro, who scored her 1,000th career point on an and-1 in the third quarter. Mastropietro drove to the hoop and was fouled, but made the bucket for points 1,000 and 1,001. Mastropietro tallied seven of her 17 points in the fourth quarter to go with eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
“I’ve always tried to be the player who gets the rebounds, assists, and steals. I kind of always want to be the player who does the little things and if I score, I score,” Mastropietro said. “It means a lot (to score 1,000 points). It’s a big deal.”
Rachel Conran had the hot hand from 3-point range all game. The sophomore gave Springfield a boost and was 6-for-9 from behind the arc for a team-high 18 points.
Jordan D’Ambrosio collected nine points, five rebounds and two assists for the Cougars.
“I thought we were pretty even with them for three quarters, but in the fourth quarter … they just scored more baskets than us. They got the rebounds, got the and-1s,” Mastropietro said. “Toward the end, our defense started to lapse, I guess, and we couldn’t get the baskets.”
Springfield (21-3) and Garnet Valley (22-1) are the top seeds in their respective District 1 tournaments. The Cougars open play in the 5A tourney next Tuesday against 16th-seeded Wissahickon, while the Jags will host the winner of No. 17 Central Bucks East and No. 16 Kennett in the Class 6A second round next Friday.
“We’re proud of the girls’ effort tonight,” Springfield coach Ky McNichol said. “But we are going to get ready for districts and we feel we’re ready to make a run.”
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