CHAMBERSBURG >> The faces of the Souderton players said it all.
Part disbelief, part shock, part frustration, part anger and lots of emotion. There were very few dry eyes among the Indians and it made sense considering the way their dream run in the state tournament had just ended.
In a game where they felt like the odds were stacked against them, a foul call with 0.9 seconds on the clock handed North Allegheny a 1-and-1, with the Tigers hitting the first en route to a 32-31 win in their PIAA Class 6A girls semifinal game at Chambersburg High School.
“It felt like everything was against us,” Souderton junior guard Tori Dowd said. “It felt like whatever we did, it was always against us. We were trying to tell each other this is not the end of it, we’re not going to let it end this way. Things just didn’t work out and the odds were against us again with a bad call.”
The deciding foul came after Souderton turned the ball over with about seven seconds left on the clock. The Indians weren’t blameless in the ending, with two turnovers in the last 35 seconds and as Dowd herself pointed out, she missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 2:36 left.
North Allegheny’s Rachel Martindale took the ball on a handoff from guard Brynn Serbin, the two nearly taking each other out, and started to dribble with Souderton’s Megan Bealer defending. Bealer wasn’t up in Martindale’s face, but the Tiger guard seemed to stumble about 30 feet from the basket, bringing up the whistle.
Martindale hit the first for the winning point, then missed the second and Souderton couldn’t get any kind of heave off. Bealer, a sophomore who played great ball all tournament, was despondent at the final whistle and Connolly went right over to her teammate and said “it’s not your fault.”
“It’s nobody’s fault, there are so many things during the game that contribute to the end score,” Cardona said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s within the first nine seconds or the last 0.9, there’s nothing you can do about it and it’s not Megan’s fault at all. She can’t be hard on herself, it wasn’t her fault and she didn’t do anything wrong. The most important thing is to be there for your teammates. People are going to be upset.”
The first half saw Souderton whistled for eight fouls while North Allegheny, the District 7 champion was tagged for just two. Souderton juniors Alana Cardona and Kate Connolly, two of their three top scorers, each had two fouls by halftime and Dowd went into the half with two although she had one redacted because an official made in error in reporting it to the table.
The free throw discrepancy was only 6-4 in favor of North Allegheny, but it was the way that Souderton was getting called that had Indians coach Lynn Carroll at one point trying to ask the officials if she had done something wrong or upset them. Meanwhile, the Tigers were playing with as much, if not more, physicality and aggression on defense as Souderton.
Despite all that, the score was knotted 18-18 at the half. Dowd and her teammates took that as a positive.
“With it being eight to two in fouls, we thought, ‘Wow, we’re still in this game,'” Dowd said. “We felt we can make this happen if we play the same way in the first half and hopefully get some calls, we’re still in it.”
Cardona was excellent in the second half, scoring nine after the break and going right at the Tigers again and again, her relentlessness finally drawing some fouls, although it didn’t necessarily extend to her teammates on their drives.
While Souderton’s run came to an end on Monday, the way it ended shouldn’t detract anything from what they did getting to the state semis. Big Red had to play its way into states, just snagging the 11th and final seed out of District I. From there, they were the underdogs in every game, but played loose, with intensity and most importantly, for each other.
“I just focused on the girls and focused on the season we had,” Carroll said. “Not too many people thought we were going to be in this position and then once we were in this position, most people probably thought we were going to lose by 20. I really wanted to focus on what they accomplished and how special of a season it has been as opposed to what was taken from us, in our eyes.”
Prior to leaving, Cardona said Souderton athletic director Dennis Stanton walked onto the team’s bus and told the girls they were making a difference in girls sports in the school. During the playoff run, the Indians had a dedicated student section that came to every game, including the two-and-a-half hour ride on Monday.
“It just sparked something in our school,” Cardona said. “You have teachers who you’ve never even had before come up and tell you good luck and we’re so excited. We had a fan bus with 40 people on it, it’s just exciting to know your school has your back and supports you in everything you do.”
Carroll said the loss would hurt most Monday night and during the day Tuesday but that after enough time, the players would be able to think back on all they had accomplished.
“We’ve come a long way, I knew we were going to be good this year but I didn’t know we were going to be this good,” Dowd said. “As we through the postseason, district playoffs into states, we said we’re going to buckle down and we’re going to do this. Just getting here is an accomplishment, Souderton’s never done this before and I wouldn’t want to have done it with any other team.”
The silver lining for Souderton is they graduate just one senior and return the top six players in their rotation next season. All year, whichever player was asked to do an interview was quick to deflect attention to a teammate and that didn’t change Monday night.
“What makes it even neater is how much they like each other,” Carroll said. “They don’t want to talk about themselves. They want to deflect and they mean it. I’m so proud of how hard they worked tonight. No matter what was happening, no matter calls were or weren’t being called, they never let up and I couldn’t be more proud of our girls right now. A month from now, this isn’t how they’re going to feel, they’ll feel great about this year.”
North Allegheny 32, Souderton 31
SOUDERTON 9 9 9 4 – 31
NORTH ALLEGHENY 7 11 7 5 – 32
Souderton (31): Tori Dowd 1 0-1 2, Megan Walbrandt 1 0-0 2, Alana Cardona 4 7-9 16, Megan Walbrandt 2 0-0 4, Kate Connolly 1 2-2 5. Sami Falencki 1 0-0 2. Nonscoring: Megan O’Donnell. Totals: 10 9-12 31.
North Allegheny (32): Martindale 3 6-9 14, Morningstar 4 2-6 13, Zeise 1 0-0 2, 1 2-3 4. Totals: 9 10-18 32.
3-pointers: S – Connolly, Cardona; NA- Morningstar 3, Martindale 2.