Radnor uses time wisely, ousts Pope John Paul II in District 1-5A playoffs

ROYERSFORD >> In their final game of their Central League season, Radnor’s girls’ basketball team allowed a season-high 75 points in an embarrassing 32-point defeat. Following that game, they had 10 days to stew before beginning district play Tuesday night against Pope John Paul II.

It was clear from the get-go that Radnor spent the time working on that defense.

Playing their district opener on the road, the Raiders ran out to an 18-2 lead early and never looked back, topping Pope John Paul II, 62-45, in a District 1-5A first round game.

Pope John Paul II’s Grace Cobaugh (30) drives along the baseline as Radnor’s Holly Holtsberg defends during their District 1-5A playoff game Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

The Raiders (14-8) advance to Friday’s second round, where they’ll try their hands against top-seeded and undefeated West Chester Henderson, who advanced with a win over Lower Moreland.

​If they can duplicate Tuesday’s complete performance, it may be Henderson with their hands full. Offensively, the Raiders shot 68 percent (17-25) from the foul line​ and registered assists on 15 of their 22 field goals.

​Defensively, the Raiders were dominant early and often, forcing nine first-quarter turnovers and running out to an early 18-2 lead on the strength of 10 points from sophomore Ellie Mueller. Starting center Holly Holtsberg added an early putback and shut down PJP’s inside game with three blocks and several rebounds.

Pope John Paul II’s Kayla Mesaros (21) and Kallan Bustynowicz (13) battle for a rebound with Radnor’s Ellie Mueller (31) and Missy Massimino (13) during the second half of their District 1-5A playoff game Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“Defense was a huge emphasis,” said Mueller. “We had time to work, time to prepare and really study our opponents.

“We switched from man to zone and back to man, and I think that allowed us to create some of the turnovers.”

The second quarter was more of the same. After Grace Cobaugh’s three-point play gave the Panthers life in the early going, Radnor went on another 10-2 run, taking a 32-11 lead into the break. By the end of the half, Radnor had limited the Panthers to four field goals and frustrated PJP into 15 turnovers.

“We saw they were quick, we wanted to get out on their shooters,” said Radnor coach Mark Jordan. “Springfield hit 13 threes on us last game—can’t have that happen again. We didn’t let their shooters get many good looks tonight.”

The Panthers showed life in third quarter, cutting Radnor’s lead as low as 14 behind 10 points from Kayla Mesaros, but the Raiders would again turn to their suffocating defense to put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Mueller would finish with 20 points, establishing herself as the team’s go-to finisher on the inside and outside. Her eight field goals included the Raiders’ only 3-pointer of the night.

“Last year, as a freshman I was more focused on rebounding, playing in the paint,” she said. “This year, I’ve expanded my game a bit to play on the outside.”

Radnor is hoping to be heating up at the right time, winning five of their last six contests. Their stiffest test yet awaits on Friday, however, when they travel to Henderson.

“We know we’ve got our hands full,” said Jordan. “But if we get the kind of play we got tonight—on both ends—I’m confident that we can play with anybody.”

Saturday’s winner clinches a spot in states, while the loser will move into a playback game for a do-or-die chance at the fifth or sixth spots out of District 1.

Radnor’s Missy Massimino (13) looks to pass as Pope John Paul II’s Kayla Mesaros plays tight defense during their District 1-5A playoff game Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

PJP’s season ends at a mark of 13-11, but the Panthers can hang their hats on a season that saw them win the PAC’s Frontier Division and give Perkiomen Valley a run for the money in the PAC semifinals. The Panthers recovered from a tough mid-season stretch to win seven of their last nine regular-season contests, earning them a top-eight seed in districts and the right to host Tuesday’s game.

Cobaugh, who finished with seven points on the evening, embodied the spirit of this Panthers team. Cobaugh​ ​will head to Millersville to play lacrosse in the fall, ​but she ​came out for basketball for the first time this season. Her coaches and teammates made sure she was proud of that decision.

“My friends, my family, everyone encouraged me to give it a shot,” she said, “and I couldn’t have asked for a better group. My coaches made me feel like I’ve been playing all four years.”

“Tonight was tough — they got on us early, and we got into some foul trouble. We came out too slow, but we got our intensity up in the second half, came back fighting.”

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