Late surge powers Great Valley past Oxford in defensive battle

EAST WHITELAND – When the Great Valley and Oxford girls meet on the court, all of the jokes about low-scoring, defensive basketball seem to come out. But on Saturday in round one of the District 1 6A Playoffs, it was no joke.

In the all Ches-Mont American matchup, the host Patriots ended the clash with 11 straight points to oust the shorthanded Hornets, 37-23, in what was a typical contest in this rivalry.

“It’s just been the style of the games historically with Oxford,” said Great Valley head coach Alex Venarchik. “It’s going to be a defensive battle.

“We said, ‘the first one to 30 wins,’ before the game, and at the half, I looked at (Oxford coach) Brian (Urig) and said ‘well, we both got to double digits.’ The last time we played, we didn’t.”

Now 15-8 overall, the 18th-seeded Pats advance to round two to play second seeded Central Bucks South on Wednesday. Number 18 Oxford – who had to go without star guard Miranda Porretta, who suffered a broken finger late in the regular season – ends its season at 11-12.

“Both teams play hard and we are very familiar with each other,” Venarchik said.

“(Oxford is) going to work the ball and get the shot that they want. Mentally, we had to be in tune, sometimes over long periods of time on defense.”

These two split a pair of regular season meetings, and the last was a Hornets victory in which the two teams combined to score just 51 points. This time Great Valley nearly scored as many points in the fourth quarter (16) as it did in four quarters the last time versus Oxford (19).

“This is fun to be a part of because everybody had a hand in this win,” Venarchik said.

The unlikely offensive hero was Ashley Sullivan, who isn’t even listed on the Patriots roster. A freshman, Sullivan came off the bench and scored eight of her career-high 15 points in the final period to lead Great Valley’s finishing push.

“I started on JV this season and then a few weeks into the season they called me up to the varsity. And then since then I’ve kind of worked my minutes up,” Sullivan said.

“Ashley started getting good minutes about three-quarters of the way through the season,” Venarchik added. “She has nice composure and is another athlete coming off the bench.

“She gave us great minutes today.”

Clinging to a 26-23 lead early in the fourth, Sullivan started the final run with a pair of buckets going to the hoop. Teammate Tessa Libertoscioli followed her own miss with a put-back, and then for the second time in the quarter, Sullivan took a long outlet pass from Libertoscioli over the defense and went in for a fast-break bucket to open a double digit lead with 1:36 to play.

“We actually just put in that play earlier this week,” Sullivan admitted.

“We went with a quicker lineup and got out and ran the court a little bit,” Venarchik explained. “Ashley got out and hit the lanes. We weren’t getting much in the half-court offense, so we looked to getting them in transition.”

Defensively, the Hornets limited Great Valley’s Sadie Buzan to just three points, but lost track of Sullivan. And in a game like this, her 15 points seemed more like 30.

“We know who’s done most of the scoring for Great Valley all year long, but Alex (Venarchik) runs such a nice system that he has a lot of interchangeable parts,” Urig said. “So it’s not surprising somebody could step in and do that.”

And offensively, without Porretta, Oxford’s offense never got untracked. Hannah D’Aquanno and Christina Fernandez were the leading scorers with six each and Oxford only connected on one 3-pointer, which is usually a reliable weapon.

“I thought we had some good looks at the basket in the second half and quite a few looked like they were halfway down and just popped out,” Urig said.

“I’m not disappointed. Our kids played hard and it just wasn’t to be.”

Libertoscioli chipped in nine points for the Patriots and helped her team to an 18-6 edge in free throw attempts, and a 10-2 edge in makes.

“When our first options aren’t open in this game we looked for other options,” Sullivan said.

“Sadie (Buzan) is extremely talented, but we have more than that,” Venarchik pointed out. “Every night we always seem to have somebody else step up. She had a tough nice offensively, but she dug in on defense and led us in rebounds.”

The injury to Porretta, a junior, wasn’t just a tough blow to the Hornets top player, it came at a very inopportune time. But Urig refused to use it as an excuse.

“All coaches say injuries are a part of the game, and they truly are,” he said. “But anytime a team loses its leading scorer, it’s going to take a while to figure out new rotations and for the players to assume new roles.

“We were very thin today but that’s not why we lost. Great Valley played better than Oxford today.”

Great Valley 37, Oxford 23

OXFORD – Williams 1 2-4 4; D’Aquanno 3 0-0 6; Fernandez 3 0-0 6; Herrin 2 0-0 5; Hampshire 1 0-2 2. Totals 10 2-6 23.

GREAT VALLEY – Porreca 1 0-2 2; Libertoscioli 2 5-10 9; Flynn 2 0-0 5; Buzan 1 1-2 3; Heins 0 1-2 1; D’Imperio 1 0-0 2; Sullivan 6 3-4 15. Totals 13 10-18 37.

Oxford                                   4 10 4 5 — 23

Great Valley                         7 7 7 16 — 37

Three-point goals: Herrin, Flynn.

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