Stief comes up big as Strath Haven reaches final

NEWTOWN SQUARE — Looking for a spark in the third quarter, Radnor turned to its bigs in the low post. As a response, Strath Haven coach Pat Keaveney went in another direction.

Playing small paid off for the Panthers, whose fourth-quarter edge was fueled by the shortest of the teams’ collective forward options, Ellie Stief, in a 46-44 win over Radnor in the Central League semifinals Saturday afternoon at Marple Newtown.

The win sends the Panthers (19-4) to Monday’s final against Garnet Valley. Tipoff will be at 6 p.m. at Harriton High School.

Stief was the difference-maker Saturday. The battle in the post was a bit of a mismatch, with Radnor’s two-headed monster of Kristin Hamill and Allison Lanzone holding the numerical advantage over Strath Haven’s Rachel Vresilovic. They exploited that in the third quarter, with Lanzone and Hamill combining for all 12 of the Raiders’ points to give them a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter of a tightly-poised game.

So instead of trying to match length for length, Keaveney went with Stief. Rather than attempting to contend under the rim, Stief stretched the defense and exploited the mid-range soft spots on the floor. She knocked down three straight looks, contributing six points to a 12-1 run to start the fourth that decided the game.

“I thought Rachel was pressing a little bit,’ Keaveney said. “Ellie’s a fantastic option to have off the bench. She’s a little bit more of a jump shooter, so we decided to put her in, maybe create some space underneath, and she responded beautifully. She played the game of her season.’

Or as Stief put it, “It was easy to come around and fill in a pocket and take the shot, because, might as well.’

Stief’s contributions epitomized the team-first approach espoused by Haven Saturday, allowing them to survive a helter-skelter, rather unsightly game riddled with 54 combined turnovers.

The team mentality was the necessary reaction to all the attention leading scorer Katie Fisher garnered. Fisher was bottled up as the subject of Radnor’s help defense, attempting just two shots in the first half and finishing with seven points, well down from her season average of 19 points per game.

But that quietness came at a price that Strath Haven was able to exploit, though it required volunteers to step to the fore. Leading the way was Bridget Sherry, who scored a team-high 13 points, including nine vital ones in the first half to keep the Panthers in touch.

“They were doubling and triple-teaming Katie, so people had to get open for open shots,’ Sherry said. “They were falling, so we were lucky I guess.’

She wasn’t alone in that pursuit. Kaylyn Crowley, one of four Panthers with six points, hit two big first-half 3-pointers. Ami Iannello, in addition to taking up permanent residence in Radnor passing lanes, drained a triple on the second possession of the fourth quarter that put Haven ahead for good. And Vresilovic, for the difficulty of having to joust with Lanzone and Hamill, hauled in 14 rebounds to go with six points.

Radnor, meanwhile, had their offensive continuity issues, too. The Raiders, who beat Strath Haven, 38-28, Thursday to sneak into the No. 3 seed, were hampered by foul trouble to Katie Jordan, who had just two points and a fraction of her usual influence.

“She’s a big part of our offense, so without her bringing the ball up and passing it and getting it moving, it hurts us a little bit,’ Hamill said. “But we tried to cope with it today.’

Hamill had eight points in the third quarter, but finished with just 10 (to go with 12 boards) and fouled out with 1:28 left. Lanzone had nine points but was just 1-for-8 from the line, part of a generally poor showing at the line for Radnor (16-7), which was just 5-for-16 at the charity stripe.

About the only thing keeping them in the game was Lauren Pacifico, who hit four triples among her 15 points.

Where Radnor left Marple Newtown disappointed, Strath Haven got a twofold boost: Not only did they earn a chance to play for a league title, but they pocketed a little extra self-belief that could pay dividends down the road in districts.

“I think it goes to show that we’re a whole team,’ Stief said. “We’re all really good, and as a whole, we can perform, and it doesn’t matter if one person is having an off day. No matter what, we can pull through and pick each other up.’

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