Girls’ basketball: Conestoga captures 24th annual West Chester Christmas Classic championship

ANNE NEBORAK-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Conestoga’s Maria Koblish (left), in action Wednesday night against Villa Maria Academy, was named the MVP of the 24th annual West Chester Christmas Classic.

West Chester – Featuring a tough defense that held Oxford to just one field goal in the first half, undefeated Conestoga (9-0) downed the Hornets, 32-21, Thursday evening in the championship game of the 24th Annual West Chester Christmas Classic at West Chester University’s Hollinger Fieldhouse.
The Pioneers completely shut down the Hornets’ (5-3) offense early in the game and led 13-2 midway through the second quarter.
“We threw a lot of [different] defenses at Oxford – traps, zones – and we forced turnovers,” said Conestoga head coach Chris Jeffries. “It might have been our best defensive effort of the season.”
It was a turnover-filled battle – on both sides. Conestoga committed nine turnovers in the first half.
“We have to value our possessions better,” said Jeffries. “But when push came to shove, we got the job done.”
Conestoga has suffered a few early-season injuries, and both tourney MVP Maria Koblish and senior forward Emma Powell had to leave Thursday’s game temporarily with injuries (both of them later returned to the contest).
“We like to think of ourselves as battle-tested, but you have to go through those [tough] battles and prove yourself, and I think we did tonight,” said Jeffries. “Oxford is a tough team, just like us, a solid team, and [Hornet head coach] Brian Urig runs a good system over there.”
Koblish, a junior guard who scored 13 points against Villa Maria in the championship semifinal Wednesday, was instrumental in the Pioneers’ fast start against Oxford Thursday night. She nailed a three-pointer from the right side to give the Pioneers a 5-0 lead, then fed Katie Mayock perfectly for a layup that put Conestoga ahead 13-2 midway through the second quarter.
“I’m really happy Maria won the MVP award – she deserves it,” said Jeffries. “She’s a heck of a player on both sides of the court, she’s really coming into her own.”
Koblish said, “Our players work so well together – a lot of us have played together 3-4 years. Before we came to Conestoga, a lot of us played for the Paoli Wildcats (in the Inter-County Basketball Association), and it’s translated [into victories]. We were really feeling the effects of playing our third game in three days tonight, because we really let it all out the last two nights, but we made our free throws down the stretch tonight.”
Conestoga needed those late free throws because Oxford slowly battled back from its 13-2 deficit, led by rebounding from 5-11 senior Grace Hennessey and outside shooting from sophomore guard Miranda Porretta. With three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Hornets had cut Conestoga’s lead to 22-19.
Down the stretch, the Pioneers relied on clutch free throw shooting by Mayock (4-for-4 in the final minute) and Sarah Mascioli. Senior forwards Liz Scott and Emma Powell (seven points) also contributed some late offensive punch.
Mayock finished with a game-high 14 points, blocked several shots and pulled down a number of key rebounds, and was named to the all-tournament team. She is averaging more than 10 rebounds per game, and as Jeffries said of her Wednesday, “Katie’s just scratching the surface of what she can do.”
Oxford head coach Brian Urig said, “It was a competitive game, and I’m proud of our players. The lid was on the basket for us tonight. We took good shots, but they just weren’t falling – it was just one of those things.”
Porretta led all Oxford scorers with 11 points, including a pair of treys. She tallied 24 points in the Hornets’ 58-50 win against undefeated Coatesville Wednesday, and was named to the all-tournament team.
In the third-place game earlier Thursday evening, Villa Maria Academy (6-3) handed Coatesville (8-2) its second straight defeat, winning 62-55. Sophomore forward Abby Walheim led the Hurricanes’ attack with 19 points and pulled down six rebounds, and was named to the all-tournament team.
The first half of the Villa Maria-Coatesville contest was a back-and-forth affair, with 11 lead changes, and Villa Maria clung to a 29-28 halftime lead. In the second half, the Hurricanes gradually lengthened their lead.
“We showed a lot of mental toughness tonight,” said Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney. “Coatesville is a really good, physically tough team, and beating them is a real accomplishment. When we missed shots, it did not disturb us and we kept battling. I thought we rebounded the heck out of the ball and was thrilled with the turnaround from last night (a 43-36 loss to Conestoga) to tonight. We have a young team and they got to learn how to play in tough games, which is going to make us better when it matters.
“Marissa Picinich (13 points, three steals, two blocked shots) had a good game, and freshman Paige Lauder (14 points, two blocked shots) played a smart game.”
For Coatesville, the leading scorer was Dee Dee Irwin (20 points) and Brianna White chipped in with 13 points. Irwin was named to the all-tournament team.
NOTES: The other four players named to the 24th annual West Chester Christmas Classic all-tournament team were Anna Camden (The Shipley School), Lauren Ross (The Shipley School), Nayyrah Neal (Prep Charter) and Emma Blewett (Upper Darby).

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