LOWER MERION >> Although it may sound more like a midseason replacement for the Disney Channel, the “Paige and Abby” show was a season-long hit for Villa Maria Academy.
Their best act of the year came Tuesday night as they for combined for 55 points as the third-seeded Hurricanes built a big lead after three quarters, then held off No. 2 West Chester Rustin, 69-58, in the semifinals of the District 1 Class 5A girls basketball semifinals at Harriton High School.
Villa Maria (19-6) advances to the championship for the first since being in Class 5A, and will face top-seeded and unbeaten West Chester Henderson on Saturday at noon at Temple University.
“If you want to win a championship, you have to go through the best teams,” said Villa coach Kathy McCartney. “We’ll see what happens Saturday. Looking forward to it.
“Henderson, last season, ended our season on a pretty rough night, we didn’t play well at all. So, it will give us a chance to redeem ourselves. Even if we don’t beat them, we’ll have a chance to play well against them, which is something we’re looking for.”
The Golden Knights (22-5) will host Mount St. Joseph in the consolation game.
Lauder, a sophomore, led the way with 34 points, while the junior Walheim chipped in 21.
“They played great tonight,” McCartney added. “And Abby is really very versatile. She is just a hell of a athlete. Sometimes, we play her on the wing, then we move her inside.”
Villa led 29-24 at halftime, then started the third quarter on fire. The Hurricanes went on an 8-0 run to open up a 40-27 lead with 3:10 left. Lauder had four of the eight points on the run.
Rustin was held off the board, missing its first six shots from the floor, until Maggie O’Hare scored to break the drought to make it 40-26 with 3:06 left.
But Villa scored six of the last 10 points of the quarter, and when Walheim’s shot went off the rim and nestled into the net as time expired, the Hurricanes took a 48-32 advantage heading into the fourth.
However, the Golden Knights didn’t go quietly. They whittled the lead down to 59-55 on a basket by Erin Gallagher with 2:18 left. But Villa made six of eight free throws to see the game through, and book a spot in the finals.
O’Hare and Lauder put on a show in the fourth as they each scored 11 points for their respective teams. O’Hare ended up with a team-high 20 points for Rustin.
“We knew we were going to have a height advantage,” said Lauder. “We added plays to help pound the ball inside and finish strong.”
The Hurricanes put their pressure defense to full use in the first half. They turned the Golden Knights over 15 times in the first half as they harassed and badgered them well outside the top of the keys to set up steals and bad passes.
“The past couple of weeks we’ve been working on our defense,” said Walheim. “We were getting more up in the face. We were talking and playing as a team.”
The first quarter saw Rustin jump out early to a 9-2 lead before Villa battled back. O’Hare and Grace Plona scored the quarter’s last two baskets to take a 13-11 lead after one.
With a state berth in their pocket, the Hurricanes look to take that last step against a team which is on a magical run of its own.
“It’s so, so exciting,” said Lauder.
Notes >> Rustin stayed in the game via the 3-pointer, making nine of them for the game — four by Becca Magrone. … The Golden Knights started to run into foul trouble, all of their starters had at least three, while Dakiya Daniels fouled out. … Morgan Warley was the only other Hurricane to hit double figures. She had 10 points. … The Hurricanes have won their three district games by margins of 25, 25 and 11 points.
Villa Maria 69, West Chester Rustin 58
VILLA MARIA: Samar 0 1-2 1, Mo. Warley 2 4-4 10, Ryan 0 0-0 0, A. Walheim 7 5-8 21, Lauder 11 12-16 34, Broadhurst 1 1-2 3, Smith 0 0-0 0, L. Walheim 0 0-0 0, My. Walheim 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 23-33 69.
W.C. Rustin: Plona 4 1-2 10, Magrone 5 0-0 14, O’Hare 8 2-2 20, Gallagher 3 2-2 10, Daniels 1 2-4 4, Gatto 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 7-10 58.
Villa Maria 11 18 19 21 — 69
W.C. Rustin 13 11 8 26 – 58
3-point goals: Mo. Warley 2, A. Walheim 2, Magrone 4, O’Hare 2, Gallagher 2, Plona.