Westtown >> The West Chester Rustin girls’ basketball squad gave its fans who came out on Valentine’s Day a special gift: a heroic fourth-quarter comeback.
Trailing by 13 with six minutes left, the Golden Knights bounced back to post a last-minute 50-47 victory against Hatboro Horsham in the opening round of the District 1 Class 6A tournament.
So instead of ending their season with a loss Friday, the No. 13 Golden Knights (15-7) will be playing at least two more games in the District 1 tournament. The victory earned Rustin a second-round contest Tuesday against No. 4 seed Pennsbury. Whoever loses that game will fall back into the playback round, as District 1 is sending 11 teams to the PIAA tournament
Friday’s victory didn’t come easy – the Golden Knights had to go on a 20-4 run in the final six minutes to pull out the game in the final minute.
“Our girls just didn’t quit; we just kept coming at them,” said an elated Rustin head coach Lauren Stackhouse. “We locked in, played defense, turned [Hatboro Horsham] over when we needed to. We could have easily hung our heads [trailing 43-30 with six minutes left], but we didn’t. We gave it everything we had – we played with heart and hustle. Our girls showed a lot of poise and a lot of composure. I’m so proud of them.”
The Golden Knights’ shooting, which was cold in the third quarter, began to heat up when junior Gracy Shivers hit a couple of treys from the left corner as Rustin went on an 8-0 run that cut the deficit to 43-38.
After Hatboro Horsham sophomore 6-footer Alice Hall, the Hatters’ leading scorer this season, fired in a layup to make it 45-38 with 3 ½ minutes to play, the Golden Knights did not allow a field goal the rest of the way.
“Give credit to our defense, because without that defense it’s not going to matter how many baskets we make, if we don’t turn them over and we don’t get that ball back in our hands,” said Stackhouse. “Our defense played great. We like to play fast, we like to play quick. When we were able to speed it up a little [down the stretch] and force those turnovers, and run our fast break, I think that really gave us the advantage.”
Rustin sophomore Laney Costin came through in the final minutes in a big way, scoring seven of the Golden Knights’ final eight points. After picking up her fourth foul with 2:22 to play, Costin broke free underneath for a couple of layups, the second one tying the score at 47-47 with 59 seconds left.
Hatboro-Horsham missed a couple of shots from short range, then Rustin took over and freshman Lola Flynn was fouled. She made the second shot to put Rustin ahead 48-47 with 15.1 seconds left, then Hatboro brought the ball downcourt, into the lane, and fired up a shot that rolled off the rim.
Costin grabbed the defensive rebound in the middle of a crowd, giving the ball back to the Golden Knights with five seconds left.
“All of our coaches were saying [before the H-H shot] that the most important thing at that point was to box out and get the ball back for us,” said Costin. “When I saw the shot wasn’t going in, I knew instantly to box out, and I did.”
Costin was immediately fouled, and walked to the free throw line with 4.6 seconds left. She made both shots to give her team a 50-47 lead.
Asked what her thoughts were at the free throw line, Costin paused for a moment, smiled and said, “Oh, I was a little bit nervous. But once they went in, I was like, ‘We got this.’”
On their final possession, the Hatters made little headway against the tough Rustin defense, and a travelling violation gave the Golden Knights the ball.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Rustin fans stormed the court, joining the joyous group of Golden Knights hugging each other on the floor.
“I was so happy, so excited that we won,” said a smiling Costin. “We get to play together for at least two more games, stay with the seniors [Sam Greer and Grace Plona] longer, and it’s nice.”
Rustin’s leading scorer was freshman Laine McGurk, with 12 points. She tallied eight of those points in the second quarter, when the Golden Knights went ahead 25-21.
For 20th seed Hatboro-Horsham (11-12), the Hatters’ loss meant their season is over. Hatboro Horsham had gone on a comeback run of their own in the third quarter – trailing the hosts 25-21, the Hatters then went on a 17-0 run to take a 38-25 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Friday’s contest was a fast-paced game, with both teams experiencing turnovers and momentum changes.
“There were runs both ways, and we had our chances [to win] tonight,” said Hatboro Horsham head coach Dennis Steinly. “We try to create turnovers and then attack the basket. Our third quarter was really good; then we tried to run time off the clock, but had had some turnovers, missed some foul shots, and had some lapses on defense, giving up uncontested layups.
“Rustin came back, they fought, and I knew they would, they’ve fought back all year. There’s no quit in that team, they could have put their heads down [trailing by 13]. In the third quarter, I thought we had them. [Shivers] hitting that three in the corner to cut our lead to five [43-38 with 3:50 left] I thought was a big shot for them.”
Like Rustin, Hatboro Horsham is a young team, with two sophomores (Hall and Emily Thomas) leading the Hatters’ scoring attack. Steinly also praised freshman Caroline Shegogue.
“I thought Caroline played a real solid game for us tonight, was hard-nosed, got some really big rebounds for us, and took some really big shots,” said Steinly.
It was the final game for Hatboro Horsham senior Cam Ryan, who has committed to play lacrosse for Drexel University.
“I felt bad for Cam, she deserved to win a playoff game,” said Steinly. “It would have been nice to get a playoff win for her.”
But in the end, the hosts earned the victory, and an extended post-season. Incidentally, the Golden Knights were on a roll late in the season, winning nine of their last 11 regular-season games.
Stackhouse said, “I think [our late-game momentum Friday] was a combination of Gracy hitting those threes down the stretch for us; Lacey coming up huge for us on the foul line; Lola Flynn, a freshman, coming off the bench for us, making that big free throw and getting steals; and us getting big rebounds.
“All of our girls showed up when we needed them the most, it was a team win. Everybody who stepped out on that court for us tonight contributed in some way.”
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