MALVERN >> The weather may have been damp and gloomy, but the atmosphere inside the cozy confines at Villa Maria Academy was as warm and sunny as a spring day.
The Hurricanes harassed, defended and pressured Penncrest into a poor shooting first half as they rolled to a 59-34 victory in the second round of the District 1 Class 5A girls basketball tournament Friday.
Third-seeded Villa clinched a berth in the PIAA tournament and booked a spot in the district semifinal Tuesday against No. 2 West Chester Rustin.
“It feels really good tonight to know that these kids got themselves into the state tournament,” said Villa coach Kathy McCartney. “I’m so happy for them. I have one of the greatest groups of seniors I’ve had in a long time and I’m really happy they’re in the state tournament and get to extend their season a little bit.”
The Lions (15-9), the sixth seed, drop into the playback round where they still have a chance to reach the state tournament. They will host No. 10 Upper Merion in the consolation semifinals Tuesday.
“We’ll watch some film on who we got, but we just have to play our game,” said Penncrest coach Bob Higgins. “We’ll be better on Tuesday.”
Neither team did a particularly great job of protecting the basketball in the first quarter, combining for 13 turnovers in the first eight minutes. The Hurricanes gradually started to gain some traction and sauntered out to a 15-7 lead after one.
“I hate when we turn the ball over,” said McCartney. “We’ll go over the film and see if we we can clean that up. It seems we always start the game with a couple of turnovers and that drives me crazy.”
Villa turned up the pressure in the second, holding the Lions to just two field goals in the first half, going 2-for-14 from the floor. They added eight more miscues in the quarter to give them 15 for the half.
“I thought we played really good defense, and that was the difference in the game,” said McCartney. “I was thrilled with our defense, and when we can turn a team over or get a rebound and run, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Penncrest went a stretch of nearly eight minutes without a bucket between the second and the third quarters. The Hurricanes used a 12-4 quarter to take a 27-11 lead into the locker room.
The Lions find more of an offensive groove in the third quarter, but unfortunately for them, so did Villa sophomore Paige Lauder. Penncrest trailed 38-24 in the latter half of the third before Lauder scored four straight baskets as the lead ballooned to 46-24. In all, Villa went on a 12-3 run to end the third for a commanding 50-27 bulge.
“We just had to play good defense and get a lead on them to keep the pressure coming,” said Lauder.
“She’s come up big for us all year,” added McCartney. “She’s done everything we’ve asked her to do and she’s only a sophomore. That’s a big burden to put on a kid, but she handles it really well.
Lauder had a game-high 16 points and Morgan Warley had 14 for Villa. Grace Harding paced the Lions with 11 points and Megan Arndt added nine.
Villa Maria 59, Penncrest 34
Penncrest: Arndt 4 0-0 9, Chelo 3 0-0 7, Eckels 0 0-0 0, Kat. Mullaney 0 1-2 1, Harding 2 7-9 11, King 1 0-0 2, Doyle 1 2-3 4, Ward 0 0-0 0, Kara Mullaney 0 0-1 0. Totals: 11 10-14 34.
Villa Maria: Samar 1 0-0 2, Ryan 2 0-0 4, A. Walheim 4 1-3 10, Lauder 7 2-4 16, Mo. Warley 6 1-2 14, My. Warley 0 0-0 0, Kirby 0 0-1 0, Czyewski 0 0-2 2, Ford 0 0-0 0, Croft 0 0-0 0, L. Walheim 0 1-2 1, Smith 1 0-0 2, DeMutis 1 0-1 2, Broadhurst 2 0-0 4, Chieffalo 1 0-1 2. Totals: 25 5-16 59.
Penncrest 7 4 16 7 – 34
Villa Maria 15 12 23 9 – 59
3-point goals: Arndt, Chelo, A. Walheim, Mo. Warley, McCusker, Mulhern 2.