RIDLEY TWP >> As his team was mired in a slump in an otherwise successful 2015-16 season, Penncrest coach Bob Higgins had a heart-to-heart meeting with two of his youngest players.
Freshman Megan Arndt and sophomore Grace Harding are two of the five underclassmen starting every game for the Lions. In the midst of a four-game losing streak, Higgins challenged both Arndt and Harding to steer the season back on course.
“I just said to them, ‘Hey, I need to see some leadership from you guys. You are the ones that really enjoy the game and kids on the team look up to you, so I need you to take over.’ And they did,” Higgins said. “They played really well and got everybody on board.”
The Lions stopped the bleeding with one of their most exciting wins, a 55-51 double-overtime thriller at Ridley Saturday.
Several times, Penncrest looked out of sync and without a chance, but Higgins’ team responded every time. Harding and Arndt were in all the action.
Harding, a 5-9 power forward who’s also a tremendous lacrosse player, scored 20 of her game-high 23 points after halftime. She had 12 rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots, as well. Arndt added 11 points
“We definitely needed this one,” Harding said. “We just needed to persevere and push through … because we deserved this. We are capable of so much, we just had to come out here and bring it.”
Penncrest was down 17-7 in the first half, but finished the second quarter on an 8-0 run. Yes, a game that ended 61-55 was 17-15 at halftime …
The Lions (10-6, 5-5) showed plenty of resolve.
“We showed a lot of fight,” Harding said.
In the middle of its comeback, Penncrest turned to junior Katie Russo, who has been the team’s leading scorer this season. Russo delivered a pair of huge 3-pointers. First, her basket from beyond the arc completed a quick 5-0 burst to begin the fourth quarter and tie the game, 33-33. She hit one of the biggest field goals of her career in the beginning of the second overtime, giving Penncrest a 54-51 lead it would not relinquish.
Russo’s only two field goals were those big 3-pointers.
“It wasn’t even being able to score for myself — it was about being able to put our team up,” Russo said. “I was happy that we won because we needed this win big time. Our last few games, our shooting percentage was down and we had a lot of turnovers. We did a lot better (Saturday). We played smarter.”
Trailing 43-40 with two minutes to play in regulation, Ridley’s Mel Malseed corralled a rebound off a Hailee Mayer free-throw miss and dished to Hanna Crowley, who drilled a 3-pointer to even the score. On the ensuing Penncrest possession, Crowley came away with a steal and breakaway layup to put Ridley ahead, 45-43. Crowley was whistled for a bogus technical foul — the official called her for elbowing — which led to a pair of free throws by Harding, who was a cool 11-of-14 from the charity stripe. Malseed made two foul shots to extend Ridley’s lead to three points with 15.8 seconds to go, then Katharine Mullaney (10 points, four assists) converted a three-point play to tie things up with 13.4 left on the clock.
Malseed hit a shot from long distance to tie the game at 51-all in the first overtime. Izzy Hamlin (14 points, 12 rebounds) had her shot blocked by Harding with 3.8 seconds left to force the second OT.
Ridley (7-7, 4-6) had its chances to pull away on multiple occasions, but ultimately suffered its third loss in a row. Hamlin, who fouled out in the second OT, paced the Green Raiders with 14 points, 15 rebounds and five steals. Crowley had 13 points and Dana D’Ambrosio poured in 10.
“Give credit to (Penncrest). They didn’t quit and kept playing the game of basketball the way it’s supposed to be played,” Ridley coach Bryant McCombs said. “We might have run out of steam … but our girls left everything they had on the floor. They didn’t quit.”