Royersford >> Villa Maria Academy’s PIAA 5A state opener against Elizabethtown Saturday evening at Spring-Ford High School started nearly an hour later than its scheduled time, due to the preceding Springfield game going into double overtime.
But that extra 50-minute wait on the sidelines didn’t faze the Hurricane players at all. The Hurricanes (25-4) swept to a 42-10 halftime lead, and defeated Elizabethtown (17-11), the eighth-place finisher in District 3, 66-23.
“I think seeing that Springfield game go into overtime just got us so much more hyped up and ready to play,” said Villa Maria junior forward Jackie Ford, who generated a couple of key steals late in the first quarter. “We really came out strong.”
“We were anticipating this game for a while; we were getting a little nervous waiting,” said Villa Maria’s all-time scorer Abby Walheim, who tallied 16 first-half points Saturday. “We just wanted to play and get it over with.”
With the victory, District 1 champion Villa Maria advances to the second round of the PIAA 5A state tournament March 13, where the Hurricanes will face Twin Valley (21-6), the third-place finisher in District 3. Twin Valley defeated District 12 fourth-place finisher Palumbo, 61-38, Saturday.
Against Elizabethtown, Villa Maria started quickly, jumping out to a 9-0 lead.
Then, with the help of strong rebounding by Walheim, Paige Lauder and others, plus some Hurricane-induced turnovers, Villa Maris built a 25-4 lead with one minute left in the first quarter. Walheim had 10 points by then, many of them in transition.
“I really liked the way we passed the ball in transition; I thought we were really, really good in transition today,” said Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney. “Julia [senior guard Julia Samar] did a good job orchestrating and getting the ball to people in the right place at the right time.
“Julia’s our quarterback out there, and she’s just starting to really understand [the position] – I wish I had her for two more years.”
Walheim said, “We were just really confident – when everyone is up and has so much energy, it makes it so much easier when everyone is talking to each other and active.”
Ford came off the bench late in the first quarter and triggered a couple of takeaways to fuel Villa Maria’s 25-4 run.
Ford said, “When I came in, I tried to pick up the tempo of the game a little bit, to get some steals on the defensive side, and then transition, which is the key to our game.”
Villa Maria didn’t let up in the second quarter, and Walheim, Lauder and Maddy Ryan kept driving inside to give the Hurricanes a 42-10 halftime lead. By then, Walheim had 16 points, and Lauder and Ryan each had tallied eight.
Early in the third quarter, with Villa Maria leading 46-14, the game was briefly stopped as Elizabethtown senior Marena Lonardi became her school’s all-time leading scorer. McCartney, who a few days earlier had lauded the senior’s scoring ability, hugged Lonardi. The E-town senior wound up with 17 of her team’s 23 points.
Saturday’s lopsided score allowed McCartney to use her bench freely, and 13 Hurricanes saw action in the game.
“It’s great to be able to get those young sophomores some state minutes – it’s good for them down the road,” said McCartney. “Everybody did their job tonight, it was a great team win.”
A smiling Walheim said, “When everyone knows their goal and everyone is doing their job, like we did tonight, we all connect together and it was just a great team win.”
Villa Maria 66, Elizabethtown 23
Elizabethtown 6 4 9 4 – 23
Villa Maria 25 17 17 7 – 66
Elizabethtown (23): Barton 0 0-0 0, Raybold 0 0-0 0, Love-Morris 1 0-0 2, Myers 0 0-0 0, Pierson 2 0-0 4, Blyler 0 0-0 0, Lonardi 8 0-2 17, Hassinger 0 0-0 0, Sedun 0 0-0 0, Totals 11 0-2 23.
Villa Maria (66): Kirby 0 0-0 0, Samar 2 3-4 8, Tague 0 0-0 0, Trebelev 1 0-2 2, Iacone 2 0-0 4, Ford 0 0-0 0, Ryan 6 0-0 12, Murphy 0 0-0 0, Myla Warley 1 0-0 2, Walheim 7 3-6 19, Lange 1 0-0 3, Lauder 5 2-4 12, Cheffalo 1 2-2 4, Totals 26 10-18 66.
Three-point field goals: Elizabethtown – Lonardi; Villa Maria – Samar, Walheim 2, Lange.
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