Springfield watches district title hopes bounce away

SPRINGFIELD >> The consensus in the gymnasium was that Springfield sophomore Alyssa Long made a clean steal in the last seconds of Friday’s District 1 Class 5A quarterfinal game against Mount St. Joseph.

That was the overwhelming belief in the stands and on the Cougars bench. Instead, Long was whistled for a foul that put the ball in the hands of Deirdre Regan, who strolled to the free-throw line looking to give Mount the lead with 13.9 seconds to play. Regan made both shots and the Magic held on to win.

After the game, one Springfield player could do nothing but nod, in clear frustration, at a comment about the officials perhaps making the wrong call.

“I thought it was a heck of a steal,” coach Ky McNichol said.

PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Springfield ‘s (5) Alexa Abbonizio hits a three point shot in the third quarter as Mount St. Joseph (44) Megan Dodaro defends in a District 1 Class 5A playoff game Friday evening at Springfield.

And we’ll leave it at that. Mount shut down Springfield’s final possession, as Jordan D’Ambrosio’s desperation shot hit the rim and bounded away as time expired in regulation. In a rematch of last season’s District 1 Class 5A championship, No. 5 Mount St. Joseph exacted revenge with a thrilling, 41-40 victory over fourth-seeded Springfield.

“We were trying to go in and get a layup,” D’Ambrosio said of the final possession. “We just couldn’t finish.”

The Magic will play top-seeded West Chester Henderson in the semifinal round Tuesday at Harriton. Meanwhile, the Cougars have a chance to earn one of six PIAA tournament berths, but must win their playback game Tuesday at home against No. 9 Radnor.

Before D’Ambrosio’s final heave at the basket, Rachel Conran had her shot blocked by Magic freshman Grace Niekelski with four seconds to play.

“I saw her coming off the screen and knew I had to do something,” said Niekelski, who finished with eight points and nine rebounds.

Niekelski was a focal point for Springfield’s defense. For the most part, though, the Cougars and Magic were familiar with each other. Many of the players faced off at Villanova University in the district final last March.

‘We knew (Niekelski) was a threat, so we face-guarded her,” said D’Ambrosio, who had eight points, two rebounds, two assists and one steal. “We knew that No.5 (Lauren Vesey) was a good shooter and that No. 33 (Regan) was left-handed.”

Overall, Springfield’s defense did a good job of limiting the Mount’s top threats. Not one MSJ player reached double digits in scoring. Megan Dodaro scored a team-high nine points.

Springfield’s aggressive style of defense would come back to haunt, though, as the Cougars were whistled for seven fouls before the end of the third quarter. And they weren’t getting calls on the other end. For instance, with 59.4 seconds to play and the Cougars leading by a point, Long was stepping out of bounds while she tight-roped along the sideline, trying to avoid the press defense of a Mount St. Joseph player. Long fell to the floor.

“The calls just weren’t going our way,” said freshman guard Alexa Abbonizio, who drilled three 3-point field goals and scored a game-high 14 points.

On its final possession, Springfield knew it had to find the right shot and be wary of the fact that the Magic had four fouls to give.

“We were trying to go five out wide, let Jordan operate and see what she could do,” McNichol said. “Give Mount credit, they had fouls to give and they took one. We had to inbound the ball on the side and run another isolation for Jordan, but it broke down. Belle (Mastropietro) made a great drive,

Rachel had a nice look and got blocked. We got to inbound again under the basket. We had an opportunity at the end of the game, but the shot just didn’t fall.”

The Magic knew they were in for a close battle, and the loud Springfield student section did nothing to deter their focus.

“Coming in I was freaking out because I didn’t want the same thing that happened last year,” said Dodaro, who scored nine points, grabbed four rebounds and handed out one assist. “But we’re a completely different team than we were last year. I knew if we played really well, it would be a different outcome. I had total confidence in the end in Deirdre because she’s one of our best free throw shooters. Once she made the shots, I was like, ‘OK, we just can’t let them score.’ We denied them at the end.”

PETE BANNAN-DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA Springfield’s Belle Mastropietro walks away disappointed after her Cougars fell by a point to Mount St. Joseph in a District 1 Class 5A playoff game Friday night.

Springfield shot 5 of 13 in the opening quarter to take a 12-8 lead after eight minutes. Mount bounced back with 5 of 12 shooting in the second period and Dodaro hit a runner to beat the buzzer before halftime, giving the Magic a 23-20 advantage at the break. That lead swelled to five points before Springfield made its comeback. Abbonizio hit two 3s in the third quarter to cut the Springfield deficit to a point, but Mount always seemed to have an answer.

Long drilled a go-ahead 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, but on the Magic’s next possession, Lauren Vesey hit a triple to tie the game. Mastropietro hit D’Ambrosio on a backdoor cut to give Springfield the two-point edge, but Taylor Sistrunk made a 17-footer to even the score. Abbonizio went 1 of 2 at the free-throw line with a minute and change to go to give Springfield a 40-39 edge.

Mastropietro had another solid all-around game for the Cougars, pairing nine points with team highs in rebounds (six), assists (three) and steals (seven). Springfield will turn the page and focus on Radnor Tuesday. One Central League team will clinch a states berth, the other will go home.

“We’re going to take our frustration out on the court,” D’Ambrosio said.

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