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Girls’ basketball: Red-hot Shanahan looking to break through with win in state opener

Bouncing back from a rough start this season, Bishop Shanahan has been on a post-season roll, winning six of its seven playoff games, capturing its third consecutive Ches-Mont Tournament title and finishing third in the PIAA Class 5A District One tourney.

“What I’m most proud of is that, when we got beat up early in the season, our players didn’t hang their heads, they battled back and didn’t quit,” said Shanahan head coach Fran Burbidge. “They stayed together and kept on working. We’re getting more solid with our [overall] game.”

Now the Eagles (19-9) are looking for their first PIAA state tournament win in at least four years as they prepare for their state opener against Lower Dauphin (19-7), the third seed in District 3. The game will be played at Harriton High School Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

In 2014, Burbidge’s first as Shanahan head coach, the Eagles lost their PIAA state tournament opener. The past two years, Shanahan’s post-season has ended in the District 1 tournament.

“Getting into the state tournament is a nice reward for our players’ hard work this season,” said Burbidge. “Now, we’ll see what we can do [against Lower Dauphin] – they’re a well-balanced team with five kids on the floor who can all catch and shoot. They’re a well-coached, good defensive team. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”

Lower Dauphin lost to District 3 runner-up Harrisburg in the district semifinals, 53-48. In that game, the Falcons’ field general, junior guard Amber Schweiger, scored 23 points, including 15 in the second half. Lower Dauphin also has a versatile performer in 6-foot- sophomore Grace Day, who has the ability to score inside or on the perimeter.

The Falcons are known to play at a relatively slow pace. During the season, the Eagles slowed their pace as well.

“[Around the beginning of January] we kind of flipped the script, changed our style of play,” said Burbidge in late January. “Early this season, we were working on a fast-paced style of play, which wasn’t allowing us to get set defensively. Now, we’re doing it a little bit differently, with more deliberate shot selection – not shooting after the first pass, but moving the ball around a little, getting a rhythm going. The kids are getting a better understanding of their roles under [our newer] system, and we’re moving forward a little bit.”

The only post-season game the Eagles have lost this season was a 51-49 defeat to Mount St. Joseph’s in the district semifinals. Shanahan mounted a furious comeback in the final minute but just fell short.

“Mount shot well against us, and that game kind of typified our season in that we had one bad quarter (the second quarter) but we kept battling, battled back,” said Burbidge.

Leading the charge for Shanahan has been its 1,000 point scorer, 6-foot-2 senior Courtney Warley, a Manhattan College signee who is averaging more than 17 points per game. Seniors Jen Sendi and Kelly Basile also have made important contributions for the Eagles this season.

“Our seniors have done a good job [promoting unselfish play] both in talking to their teammates, and in their actions,” said Burbidge. “Courtney, I think, is the best around — she does so many things. Jen has been a tremendous leader for us. We switched Kelly’s role 1 ½ months ago to make her a more integral part of our defensive scheme, and it’s important to us that she’s out on the floor at all times.”

Two other solid contributors for the Eagles this season have been sophomore guard Sammie McCarter and freshman forward Kathryn Greenhut.

“Sammie is a baller, a rebounder, a shooter and someone who will stick her nose in there for the ball,” said Burbidge. “Kathryn is an emerging freshman [who shows promise].”

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West Chester Rustin (16-10), the No. 4 seed in District 1, travels to East Pennsboro High School in Enola Saturday at 6 p.m. for their Class 5A state opener to take on District 3 runner-up Harrisburg (21-4). The Cougars battled Susquehannock down to the wire in the district final before falling 44-42.

“Harrisburg does a good job rebounding on the offensive end,” said Rustin head coach Jim Powers. “They push the ball and get after you with pressure. We will need to do a really good job on the backboards and limit their second- and third-chance opportunities. We also will need to finish on the offensive end when we have our chances and not turn the ball over.”

Rustin did all of these things in its 43-37 win against Radnor in the second round of Districts, a victory that wrapped up a berth in States for the Golden Knights.

“Against Radnor we were able to do a good job on the backboards,” said Powers. “We finished on the offensive end when we had our chances and we did not turn the ball over against their tough press.”

The Golden Knights have been relying on the outside shooting of Maggie O’Hare (15.2 ppg) and Lexi Zavitsky (9 ppg) and Erin Gallagher (11 ppg) on the inside. Gallagher scored 17 points in Rustin’s win over Radnor; while O’Hare tallied a career-high 29 points in the Golden Knights’ 58-48 district opener against Academy Park. Sophomore Dikaya Daniels (7 ppg), a transfer from Illinois, has developed into an additional scoring weapon for Rustin.

“Becca Magrone has done a nice job as a spark off the bench lately for us,” noted Powers.

One key for Rustin’s improvement during the season has been its defense.

“Our defensive play has picked up since the holiday tournaments,” said Powers in late January. “We’re not that big, and [we coaches] have been emphasizing boxing out and rebounding, playing team defense and team rebounding. We have a lot of rotation on defense, and [aim for] having five players on the glass.”

On Tuesday, Powers said, “Our defense has still been doing well so I feel pretty good about that heading into States.”

Rustin is at full strength roster-wise as it prepares to play its state opener.

“We have no health issues,” said Powers. “Symone Costin did miss our first round district game against Academy Park with a knee issue but returned against Radnor and helped us on the backboards.”

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West Chester Henderson (19-7), the fifth seed in District One, has a challenging Class 5A state tournament opener, facing defending PIAA Class 3A state champion Archbishop Wood Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Archbishop Carroll High School.

Last week, Wood (19-7) won its fourth consecutive District 12 title, defeating Mastery Charter North 54-43 in the championship final despite the loss of junior forward Bridget Arcidiacono in the first quarter with a lower leg injury. Wood also ran into some foul trouble in the title game, as Mastery Charter went to the free throw line 33 times.

The Vikings, the No. 1 Class 5A team according to @PaGirlsHoops state rankings, have played an extremely tough schedule and feature a broad range of talent – a couple of quick guards in Shannon May and Cassie Sebold, two potent wing scorers in Arcidiacono and Katie May and a good rebounder in Meg Neher.

One of Henderson’s biggest assets is their rebounding – they’ve been outrebounding their opponents by a dozen boards per game, led by Abbey Shea (7 rpg), Viki Kneis (7 rpg), Grace Ferguson (7 rpg) and Emma Bertrando (6 rpg).

Henderson head coach Greta Neff said, “I am real happy with our resiliency and ability to bounce back from tough losses. The kids are showing a lot of fight. We are also playing some good team basketball and moving the ball well amongst each other.”

Offensively, the Warriors are led by Bertrando (13 ppg), Kneis (9 ppg) and their floor leader, Maddie Deprisco (8 ppg).

“I think you have to give some credit to Erin Thompson and Brynn Cullinan for their steady play and energy on the court,” said Neff. “They don’t fill up a stat sheet, but they do the intangibles and come up with big plays for us when we need them to.”

The Warriors have no major injuries heading into the post-season.

“Physically, we are as close as we have been to full strength,” said Neff.

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