Young Springfield starts title defense in fine fashion

SPRINGFIELD >> Springfield coach Ky McNichol put a young starting five on the floor for the Cougars’ District 1 Class 5A playoff opener against Penn Wood Tuesday night.

The Central League champions, who are the No. 4 seed in the tournament, carry the burden of trying to defend the district championship.

The first step toward that successful defense went well as the Cougars took down 13-seeded Penn Wood, 59-37, to qualify for a quarterfinal round matchup with No. 5 seed Mount St. Joseph, which beat Marple Newtown, 66-41, Tuesday.

Springfield (19-6) will host the Mount Friday night in a rematch of the 2017 district final.

Penn Wood (11-12) lost seven of its first eight games this season. Coach Kareem Wright had to walk out of a gym with his six senior players for the last time, but said he planned to be walking into a gym at playoff time in 2019.

“We had a front-loaded schedule, and when we were 1-7 they could have packed it in,” Wright said. “But I can’t take anything away from them. They kept giving us the effort, and I hope those who are coming back will keep working to keep Penn Wood basketball on the move.

“Springfield has a very talented team, and a very talented coach. They are where they are with their program where we want to be with our program.”

McNichol could look up and down the statistics sheets and point out how so many of her players made Tuesday’s victory happen.

“It was definitely a team win,” McNichol said. “We had people doing all the little things you need for them to do. Alyssa Long is our floor leader who makes things happen. Belle (Mastropietro) had a double-double tonight. And Jordan (D’Ambrosio) shuts down the other team’s scoring leader.

“They all are very competitive kids.”

D’Ambrosio, a junior, was the Cougars’ scoring leader with 20 points — nine in the opening period — and helped force Penn Wood’s Carle Andrews, a career 1,000-point scorer, into a 2-for-13 shooting night. D’Ambrosio was backed by freshman Alexa Abbonizio, who tossed in 14 points and had two steals and a pair of assists.

Mastropietro’s numbers included 13 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, and Long contributed three points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals. Sophomore Jordan Postiglione came off the bench to pull down eight missed shots, hand off three assists and make a pair of steals.

Abbonizio hit both of her 3-point field goals, and D’Ambrosio scored five points to help Springfield to a 16-6 advantage in the second period and a 29-17 halftime lead. Mastropietro, who made two shots from behind the arc, and D’Ambrosio both scored six points in the third period as the Cougars built their lead to 48-21.

“We knew that coming in as reigning champions we couldn’t overlook any other team,” Long said. “We needed to keep our composure and play four good quarters. And we had to have our defense keep them under control in the second half.”

Mastropietro had a little talk with McNichol before the game began.

“She told me she wanted double-digit rebounds out of me tonight,” the junior said. “We played (Penn Wood) last year, so we had an idea of who they had and what they wanted to do.

“I’m not sure we played our best basketball in the first eight minutes, but things were better by halftime.”

D’Ambrosio said that she and her teammates had to put out of their minds any talk about playoff jitters.

“Everything was about not taking any team lightly,” she said. “So I don’t think we were all that nervous.”

Freshman Ashley Cyrus came off the bench to pace Penn Wood with 11 points, and sophomore center Jada Hutt got seven points and 11 rebounds — nine off the offensive glass.

“Playing Mount St. Joseph is another big game for us,” McNichol said, looking ahead to Friday’s matchup. “They’re pretty much a new team from last year and they have a new coach, but we know we’ll have to be ready for another tough game.”

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