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Souderton shuts down Plymouth Whitemarsh, advances to PIAA 6A semis

ROYERSFORD >> If this run Souderton is on could be summed up by a moment, it would be the play Kate Connolly made to end the third quarter Saturday.

First, the 6-foot-2 junior blocked a driving shot by Plymouth Whitemarsh’s standout guard Taylor O’Brien and came down with the rebound. After passing the ball up the floor, Connolly followed the play, where she got it back just over halfcourt with about three seconds left.

So, she put up a shot at the buzzer, it went down and the Indians bench went nuts. It took 10 seconds from the time O’Brien started her drive to the time the shot went through the net.

Connolly did her thing, Tori Dowd and Megan Walbrandt did their defensive act, Alana Cardona was her usual self and Megan Bealer and Sami Falencki made it rain. It all added up to a 43-32 Souderton win over the Colonials in the PIAA 6A quarterfinals at Spring-Ford.

“I don’t know what happened,” Connolly offered up after the game. “It just kind of worked out. I looked up and saw three seconds and I thought ‘I should probably shoot it, I guess.’”

That’s just Connolly. Her play is a lot louder than she is. The wing, which might not even be the right position to describe her, had 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks, scoring 10 in the third quarter and turning the fourth into her own personal block party.

“When she’s defending a guard, chances are she’s going to have a lot of length on them,” Souderton coach Lynn Carroll said. “That certainly helps, with how long her arms are and her height but her timing is perfect. Really, it’s perfect.”

PW led 10-7 after the first quarter with O’Brien and Lauren Coscia leading the way. Coscia benefitted from Souderton’s need to send help toward O’Brien and Lauren Fortescue, while O’Brien kept attacking the rim.

Even with two solid defenders in Dowd and Walbrandt, Big Red had some trouble dealing with O’Brien in the first half. Of course, that’s to be expected and as Carroll said, there’s nobody like Taylor O’Brien. The springy 5-foot-9 junior scored 13 points, but she was much more effective in the first half.

O’Brien took eight free throws before halftime and none after, scoring nine points and pulling down seven of her eight boards in the opening 16 minutes.

“They play tremendous man defense,” PW coach Dan Dougherty said. “Their length and ability to on-the-ball defend is really special. It was fun the first half, we handled it pretty well, got to the free throw line but in the third quarter things didn’t go our way. Today, the way they were shooting the ball in the first half, they would have beaten us seven out of seven games.”

Souderton’s Megan Walbrandt gets fouled as she comes down with a rebound by Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Lauren Fortescue and Lauren Coscia during their PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Souderton got a huge lift from its shooters, Bealer and Falencki, in the second quarter. Each guard knocked down a pair of 3-pointers with Connolly scoring the other points in a 14-10 frame that gave the 11th seed out of District 1 a one-point edge at the half.

Knowing they were going to make defensive adjustments, that was just fine with Souderton. Carroll said the most important adjustment was her defenders not jumping when O’Brien drove, because she’s so good at body control and drawing contact.

“(Dowd and Walbrandt) being on (O’Brien) really helped us,” Cardona said. “We also had help defense so if she drives to the basket, somebody was there to help and somebody else was there to help the helper. The fact we were able to get there helped them as they were trying to guard her.”

Unsurprisingly, the end of the third wasn’t the first time Connolly has hit a 3-pointer like that. It’s actually a near-daily occurrence in Big Red practices.

“We end every practice by taking shots from almost that exact spot and Kate makes one almost every day at practice so we don’t have to run,” Cardona said. “It’s really funny that she made it and I think it just hyped everybody up. We all jumped up and started high-fiving and all that stuff before we realized, oh, we have one more quarter.”

Connolly made sure that celebration was going to continue by outright rejecting PW at the turn over and over again. She blocked three perimeter shots by the Colonials and each one seemed to suck a little more energy out of PW.

The junior couldn’t offer up an explanation of why she’s such a proficient shot-blocker, saying she just tries to go straight up each time and if the chance is there, she’ll take it. If Connolly couldn’t answer it, maybe someone on the receiving end of plenty of her blocks could.

“Now, it’s kind of normal,” Cardona said. “If I see her coming, I just accept she’s going to block it. I don’t know how many she had this game, but when she or anybody blocks one, it adds to that, let’s get down the court and get another shot.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Dan Dougherty hugs his starters as he pulls them out of the game in the final moments of the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinal against Souderton on Saturday, March 18, 2017. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)

Souderton will face North Allegheny out of District 7 in the semifinals next week, a remarkable run for a team that had to claw its way into states.

“We’re all really close,” Connolly said. “This has been a really great experience, everyone is working as hard as they can. It’s win or go home, you have to give everything you have and we all just really enjoy doing that.”

PW ends one of the best seasons in program history with plenty in place for next season too. O’Brien, Fortescue and Ali Diamond all return with a promising group of young players who look ready to jump up from JV. The Colonials do lose two seniors in Coscia and Laurel Suchsland, a pair of players that have meant far more to the team than their stats may indicate.

“They’ve built PW girls basketball into a brand,” Dougherty said. “The two of them have made that what it is. They’re great role models and we said in the locker room, those of you who have been busting it on scout team this playoff run, the two of them did the same thing, their turn in the spotlight came and they made the most of it.”

Souderton 43, Plymouth Whitemarsh 32
Plymouth Whitemarsh  10 10   9 3 — 32
Souderton          7 14 16 6 — 43
Plymouth Whitemarsh (32): Taylor O’Brien 3 7-8 13,  Lauren Fortescue 3 0-0 6, Ali Diamond 1 1-2 4, Laurel Suchsland 1 0-0 3, Lauren Coscia 3 0-0 6. Nonscoring: Victoria Betterly, Zygmunt, Ziegler. Totals: 11 8-10 2.
Souderton (43): Tori Dowd 0 1-6 1, Megan Bealer 3 0-1 8, Alana Cardona 4 0-2 8, Megan Walbrandt 2 1-2 6, Kate Connolly 5 1-2 13, Sami Falencki 2 1-2 7. Nonscoring: Erica Stephens. Totals: 16 4-15 43.
3-pointers: PW – Diamond, Suchsland; S – Bealer 2, Falencki 2, Connolly 2, Walbrandt.

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