CHELTENHAM >> Siani McNeil went down with a leg injury late in the third quarter of the District One Class A semifinal game at Cheltenham High Wednesday night.
It was a pretty big uh-oh moment for No. 2 Delco Christian. At the time, DC was leading by double digits and pretty much in control, but overcoming the loss of its best player would not be easy.
It was the chance for No. 6 Christopher Dock to redeem itself after a disastrous first half. On the other side, the Knights relied on Alex Thompson, Claudia Norton, Taylor Mingle and Emma Ellsworth to navigate the murky waters and push the team through to the district final.
It wasn’t pretty, but Delco Christian held on for a 42-37 victory over Dock and will play for the District One title at Council Rock South Saturday morning at 10.
Ellsworth didn’t anticipate playing as many minutes as she did Wednesday. She was sidelined for more than a month with a stress fracture and is still working her way back into game shape. All she wanted to do was return the favor.
The senior Ellsworth made clutch free throws and hauled in tough rebounds in the fourth quarter to help the Knights (20-6) seal the win.
“Coach (Mark) Weaver said that Siani led the team when I was injured — I’ve been injured for five weeks — so once I saw that she got injured, we swapped roles,” said Ellsworth, who came off the bench to register five points, three rebounds and one steal. “I was only expecting to play a quarter, but when Siani got hurt I realized it would be more than that. I was definitely tired and felt a little rusty.”
McNeil, by the way, is OK. The two-time Bicentennial League MVP and West Chester recruit will be ready to go Saturday.
Thompson, a junior, was the unsung hero. While she didn’t score from the field, Thompson played lockdown defense on Dock’s best player, senior Lanae Hunsberger, who was limited to five points until the fourth quarter. Hunsberger finished with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting.
“I thought she was the most important player,” Weaver said of Thompson, who led the Knights in assists (five) and steals (three). “She was assigned to play Hunsberger on defense, she played the game with just two turnovers … and she made the plays that she had to make. She really helped us stall the game at the end, too.”
Hunsberger made an impact in other ways. She had a game-high six steals, dished five assists and snared six rebounds, but Thompson can be credited for making sure she was kept quiet on the scoreboard.
“I defended her the last two times we played them, so I knew what kind of player she is,” Thompson said. “She’s really fast and likes to take the ball to the net. I knew that I had to stay in front of her and once she didn’t have the ball, deny her so that she didn’t even have a chance to score.”
The Pioneers knew they let a big opportunity to steal the game from DC fall by the wayside when McNeil was lost to injury. But what was most frustrating to Hunsberger was Dock’s struggles in the first half. At intermission, the Knights had a commanding 30-14 lead on 13-for-26 shooting, while the Pioneers shot a paltry 6-for-27 from the floor and committed 11 turnovers.
The Knights had their way running the floor, while McNeil scored eight of her 13 points in the first quarter.
“We should have worked so much harder in the first half. That’s what killed us in the game,” Hunsberger said. “In the second half, we were doing really well and I thought that’s the best we played against this team.”
Indeed, Dock was inspired for the second half. The Pioneers trimmed DC’s once comfortable lead to four points with two minutes to go thanks to a layup by Carsyn McCloskey. After Mingle (13 points) hit a free throw, Hunsberger drilled her first field goal of the second half with a minute to play, slicing DC’s lead to three points.
The Knights, however, made sure the Pioneers stayed put. Ellsworth made a foul shot and grabbed a rebound off a Olyvia Longacre miss. So Ellsworth returned to the foul line to make one more freebie and put Dock’s season to bed.
DC dominated the rebounding battle, 33-15. McNeil led with 10 boards.
“Once (McNeil’s injury) happened, we’re a different team and other kids have to step up,” Weaver said. “It was a pretty good team effort and we hung in there.”