LANSDOWNE >> Just when Abington most needed it, Lizzie O’Leary came down with a contested rebound.
A few seconds later, the Galloping Ghosts junior center intercepted a pass and the next possession, she had another clutch rebound. It wasn’t the case all night, but when the game rested on a delicate precipice, Abington made enough plays.
The Ghosts needed them to survive a spirited Penn Wood team and secure the District I Class AAAA No. 9 seed with a 60-55 win Friday night.
“I guess we were due for a not very good game but to play poorly and be able to still win is what you want to do at this time of the year,” Abington coach Dan Marsh said. “I’m proud of them for persevering. We got sped up again and were making too many bad decisions and I apologized to them because I’m getting sped up too.”
Penn Wood’s effort was at times much greater than Abington’s, with the Patriots grabbing 24 of their 42 rebounds on the offensive glass. Patriots assistant coach Al Poplawski said that’s a point of pride for the team, with the guards also being tenacious on creating second and third chances
The Patriots got a monster game from Dahnye Redd, who put in 21 points, ripped down 11 rebounds and had four assists plus four steals. It was the senior forward who had the late look that O’Leary rebounded, a good shot that just happened to not fall.
“We were looking for her to get the ball and go in, maybe get to the basket and get a foul to go with it,” Poplawski said.
O’Leary, who is committed to Delaware, had a double-double of her own with 13 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and the big steal. She said the game was a good gut-check for her team and when the moment called on her, she was ready for it.
“In that situation, getting the ball, holding on to it and keeping our possession is the most important thing,” O”Leary said. “We needed to calm down on offense. We needed to play good defense and we didn’t do that the whole game so we had to settle down on both ends of the floor.”
Abington started the game on a bit of a jolt, led by sophomore Sam Brusha, who scored seven of her nine points in the first quarter. Senior guard Sammy Lochner picked it up from there, putting in 10 points during the second quarter as Abington built a 31-17 lead but saw it cut to 35-27 at halftime.
Lochner, a St. Peter’s recruit, led Abington with 14 points and five assists and had a few big plays of her own late, including a steal on a possession where Penn Wood had already had three offensive rebounds, resulting in two foul shots for herself.
That Abington was able to shake off a bad performance, and beat a locked-in quality opponent says a lot about how far the team has come. A few months back, the Ghosts likely would have dropped a game like Friday’s.
“Earlier in the year, we probably (do) lose, but we’ve learned from that and we’ve moved on,” Marsh said. “We were able to hang on. It’s always good to get tested and learn, as long as we won.”
Poplawski said Penn Wood knew Abington liked to be methodical on offense and for stretches of the first half, the Ghosts were. But after the break, the Patriots started out-hustling Abington, getting to more balls and instilling some havoc in the visitors.
Redd was a force all game and she got a big boost from Carle Andrews (16 points, six rebounds) in the third quarter as Penn Wood cut the lead to three. The Patriots eventually tied the game at 53-53 on a hoop by Redd, but Abington forward Leah Simmons put her team back up on a foul shot and the Ghosts never gave up their edge again.
“We knew (Abington was) not an 18 rank team, they’re much better than that,” Poplawski said. “We knew they were good and we had to bring our best. We fell a little bit short but certainly not for lack of trying, we could have used a few more put-backs or close-in shots we missed.”
Both teams enter the state playoffs with some momentum. Abington won three in a row to grab the No. 9 seed, though the coaches may say some of that was mitigated with Friday’s game while Penn Wood has won two of three but played a strong game in Friday’s loss.
Abington has been in states the last three seasons but this is the first appearance for Penn Wood.
“This is the furthest we’ve ever been as a team so everything’s kind of new as we go along,” Poplawski said. “We try to learn as we go along from our previous steps. We saw some things with their defense. At this point, you don’t play anybody that isn’t a good team so we’re looking forward to it.”
“It was a good gut-check for us going into states, every game is going to be like this where the teams are aggressive and physical and have crowds like this that are loud,” O’Leary said. “We just have to remember to stay calm and play our game.”