Fortescue helps Plymouth Whitemarsh rally past Upper Dublin

WHITEMARSH >> All Lauren Fortescue had to do was shoot the ball.

In practice Monday, Plymouth Whitemarsh coach Dan Dougherty watched as Fortescue knocked down about 12 straight 3-pointers off kick-out passes from Taylor O’Brien. But as soon as the Colonials switched over to a scrimmage and ran the same play, Fortescue passed the first three times she got the ball.

It’s the battle Dougherty has been fighting for two years, to get Fortescue to take her shot. He gained a lot of ground Tuesday night.

Fortescue turned in a sterling second half, scoring 11 of her 14 points after the break as PW rallied in the fourth quarter to top Upper Dublin 35-31 at Colonial Elementary School.

“As the game went, the crowd was for us which really helped, it was kind of natural,” Fortescue said. “I wasn’t thinking about my shot and that’s what really helped me. Coach worked on that in practice when we were running our offense that Taylor would drive and that was a big part of me getting open.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Taylor O’Brien battles Upper Dublin’s Maggie Weglos for a loose ball during their game on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

Fortescue, the 5-foot-6 senior, was a perfect 3-of-3 in the final stanza with each make in the conversation for biggest bucket of the game. A lone 3-pointer early in the fourth gave PW its first lead at 25-24. Another trey, off that drive and kick play from O’Brien, put PW up six points and her coast-to-coast, absurd level of difficulty finish layup with 1:18 left gave the Colonials a late three-point edge.

This isn’t the first time Fortescue has delivered in big moments for her team. Her coach just wants “Fort” to have the confidence to do it more often.

“I can’t tell you how often that shot happens with me behind on the bench just saying ‘please shoot this,’” Dougherty said. “She just needs that confidence.”

The first time these two teams met back on Jan. 7, it went down as an instant classic with PW (16-1, 11-0 SOL American) pulling out a double-overtime win thanks to a transcendent 36-point effort by O’Brien. Upper Dublin (15-4, 9-2 SOL American) coach Morgan Funsten, who has the utmost respect for the Bucknell-bound O’Brien still never expected her to score like that against his team.

Tuesday, the Cardinals were determined to keep the game at their pace and O’Brien as much in check as possible. For a half, they were very good at it. UD kept the game slowed down in the first half and got good shots against PW’s zone defense.

It did not carry over into the second half, especially once PW made the switch to man-to-man defense.

“Our decision-making, the entire first half and the start of the third quarter, had been so good and while they were still in a zone, we were comfortable attacking their zone and I don’t know if we got excited because we had a lead, we made a lot of silly decisions,” Funsten said. “We gave away a lot of possessions offensively. Every possession in a game like this is so important and to give away possessions, it cost us momentum and then Fortescue stepped up and hit some big shots.”

Fortescue felt it wasn’t her scoring but the Colonials’ man defense was the difference maker in the second half. She added her team hadn’t very sharp in man the past few games, not communicating well and just slow to the ball.

Tuesday, with a good crowd in the gym, PW had to get loud to be heard over the noise and in turn, their rotations and help were much crisper and Upper Dublin stopped scoring. Shortly after Jess Polin gave UD a 24-17 lead with six minutes left in the third, PW dropped its zone and went man and UD went nearly 10 minutes without a point until a Jackie Vargas hoop in the fourth quarter.

“I thought our decision-making in the third quarter with a lead was panicked,” Funsten said. “O’Brien’s individual performance against us last time was one of the best you’ll ever see but we also know Fortescue is able to beat us the way she did. I thought we still did a nice job on defense all night and it came down to our decision-making on offense.”

Upper Dublin’s zone caused PW plenty of trouble in the first half, so at the break, the Colonials went to work trying to get past it. The Cardinals led wire to wire in the first half and the entire third quarter despite not scoring over the final six minutes.

“Their length across the bottom is really tough to deal with,” Dougherty said. “Not everybody has a Nicole Kaiser or a Jackie Vargas to play the bottom of the zone. We talked about let’s continue to rotate the ball.”

Upper Dublin’s Cara Grebe goes for a lay up near Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Ali Diamond during their game on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

Fortescue added that in their base “Zipper” play, the coaches wanted the guard to try and drive more to try and create a collapsing defense and resultant kick-out shot chances.

After Fortescue put PW up 30-24 off the kick-out triple, UD cut the lead down to one on a layup by Vargas. Off the inbound play, Fortescue saw a rare avenue of space in the Cardinals defense and sped down the floor, then somehow willed in a tough, well-guarded shot around a defender.

“I wasn’t thinking about it too much, I just said to myself that I was going for it,” Fortescue said. “I said ‘I’m not stopping.’ I really wanted it.”

Dougherty cited Sydney Kesselman’s play as well, which included a well-timed 3-pointer, a block and some good defensive sequences guarding UD’s leading scorer in Kaiser.

A major reason the Colonials’ man defense worked was the effort of freshman Anna McTamney. McTamney guarded Vargas, who led UD with 11 points, and made the Cardinals sophomore work hard for everything despite giving up a few inches in height.

It was also McTamney who got the last defensive stop, recovering an errant pass for a steal with 1.5 seconds left and icing the game with two free throws at the line.

“I can’t say enough about Anna McTamney,” Dougherty said. “On both ends of the floor, to battle Jackie Vargas the way she did was just incredible. Then to knock the down the free throws at the end of the game after getting the steal to seal the game, just huge.”

Fortescue found herself smiling after McTamney’s steal, knowing she and her teammates had taken a major step toward their first goal for the season, repeating as SOL Amercian champions.

After spending her first two years of high school at Norristown, Fortescue transferred to PW last year and found herself reinvigorated both in her athletic pursuits, but also in the classroom. She pushed and challenged herself in both areas and has parlayed it into a chance to play college basketball at Salisbury next year.

“It’s been a while since I have stepped up, last year was a little different for me,” Fortescue said. “This was a game my entire team, not just me, wanted so badly and as a senior, I did not want to lose to Upper Dublin. Last game we counted on Taylor, but when it comes to everyone, it makes things a little easier and we really worked as a team tonight.”

UPPER DUBLIN 13 6 5 7 – 31
Upper Dublin: Jackie Vargas 5 1-2 11, Nicole Kaiser 2 0-0 4, Jess Polin 3 0-0 8, Kara Grebe 3 0-0 6, Sarah Eskew 0 2-3 2. Nonscoring: Maggie Weglos, Meg Barbera, Lindsey Schreiber. Totals: 13 3-5 31
Plymouth Whitemarsh: Lauren Fortescue 5 0-0 14, Taylor O’Brien 4 1-2 10, Anna McTamney 0 5-6 5, Ali Diamond 1 0-1 3, Sydney Kesselman 1 0-0 3. Nonscoring: Gia Schweitzer, Hayley Zygmunt. Totals: 11 6-9 35.
3-pointers:  UD – Polin 2; PW – Fortescue 4, O’Brien, Diamond, Kesselman.

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