New Hope-Solebury leads with defense, hands Upper Moreland first SOL Freedom loss

UPPER MORELAND >> New Hope-Solebury senior Rachel Saxton and her teammates had been waiting for their second meeting with Upper Moreland.

After a poor fourth quarter did them in on their home floor, the Lions wanted to show the SOL Freedom Division title was still a two-team race. With their defense communicating and their passing on point, the Lions did what they set out to and handed the host Golden Bears their first division setback.

Saxton led a team effort with 17 points and five steals as New Hope-Solebury controlled the second half in a 39-21 win at Upper Moreland on Thursday.

“We knew coming in that if we wanted to win our conference, we had to have this game,” Saxton said. “That motivated everybody else to pick it up, so I’m really happy with the outcome. Upper Moreland has a great coach, great players and a great program so to have this win feels really good.”

Neither team put up a lot of points in the first half, but the Lions were able to establish their defense early on and maintained their level of effort throughout the night. After the Bears (8-2, 6-1 SOL Freedom) took an early 3-0 lead, New Hope-Solebury (9-2, 7-1 SOL Freedom) senior J Covino scored the next six points and the visitors carried an 8-7 after eight minutes.

Saxton opened the second quarter with five straight points, including the first of her three steal-and-score layups, for a 13-7 lead before the hosts rallied back.

Bears sophomore EmmyFaith Wood scored or assisted every point of an 8-2 run by Upper Moreland to close the first half, the guard’s 3-pointer with 40.3 left in the frame tying the score 15-15 at halftime. However, Upper Moreland had also turned the ball over six times in the quarter and New Hope-Solebury had prevented UM freshman Holly Gohl from getting anything going offensively.

“You have to see the ball go in the basket, so when you’re not taking a lot of shots and you’re turning it over and falling behind, there’s nothing to get confidence from,” UM coach Matt Carroll said. “They handled our defenses well and they were poised and under control.”

Carroll added that pregame, the Bears talked about how the pressure was on New Hope-Solebury to win if the Lions wanted any say in the outcome of the division race. He felt some of the turnovers came by forcing passes, which was just what the Lions wanted the hosts to do.

In the first meeting, Saxton said the Lions fell apart in the final quarter but they weren’t looking to try and win Thursday’s meeting behind any individual efforts. They knew who they had to guard tightly and used their defense as a way to control the flow of the game.

“The best thing about our team defensively is we have each other’s backs,” Covino said. “If one of us gets off our player, we’re making those rotations, talking and just having trust in each other. We wanted to clean up our mistakes from last time.”

Saxton credited Madi Fasti and Kate Dougherty as the defensive coordinators on the floor for the Lions. Fasti and Dougherty combined for five steals and were the most vocal players in terms of calling out screens, cuts and rotations so their teammates could get where the ball was going.

Upper Moreland got the ball out of the half, but missed a good look on its first possession and wouldn’t be able to regain any traction. Saxton, a 1,000 point scorer committed to Muhlenberg, kicked off a 12-0 run with a steal and score, the same way she scored to end the Lions’ surge with the visitors up 27-15 late in the third quarter.

“When your best player is a college player who is a point guard and a senior, that’s how your teams look,” Carroll said. “We’ll get there, but we’re a little inexperienced and it showed tonight.”

In between Saxton’s two steals, the Lions had three baskets set up by their passing. The senior guard felt like Thursday’s win could also help down the road, with the Lions entering No. 3 in District 1-4A and the top four teams making the postseason this winter.

“Good defense turns into good offense,” Saxton said. “The first game, they really came at us and it scared us, which led to some bad turnovers. We knew we had to come in and dictate the pace, so that’s exactly what we did and started to pull away in the third quarter.”

Upper Moreland didn’t hit a shot from the floor in the third quarter, the Bears’ only points in the frame coming from a pair of free throws with 30.3 remaining on the clock. Wood led the Bears with 10 points, while Katie Opferman had six rebounds and Gohl collected five boards.

Covino credited second-year Lions coach Steve Polinsky for instilling confidence in the players to move the ball and take open shots. Holding a sizable lead, the Lions slowed things down but still managed to stretch the Bears out and opened the final quarter with eight straight points created off their passing.

“One of the special things about our team is the way we play together and that unexplainable connection of how we know where each other are going to be,” Covino said. “The passing is one of my favorite parts of our team, it’s something we’ve carried really throughout the season and we keep finding each other in those moments.”

The Bears can still claim at least a share of the division title if they win the rest of their games against Freedom opponents, starting Saturday against Lower Moreland. Bad nights will happen during the season and for the most part, Upper Moreland has played good basketball.

Upper Moreland entered the night No. 3 in District 1-5A, with 10 teams set to make the playoffs this season.

“We have to suck it up, watch the film and see why we didn’t play well,” Carroll said. “We’re going to see a team just as good as New Hope in the playoffs, so we have to know how to handle failure and bounce back when things don’t go your way.”

NEW HOPE-SOLEBURY 8 7 12 12 – 39
UPPER MORELAND 7 8 2 4 – 21
NHS: Rachel Saxton 6 4-6 17, J Covino 5 0-0 11, Kate Dougherty 1 0-0 2, Reagan Chrencik 3 0-0 7, Emily Primavera 0 2-2 2. Totals: 15 6-8 39.
UM: EmmyFaith Wood 4 0-0 10, Kaiya Herb 2 2-2 6, Katie Opferman 1 0-0 3, Holly Gohl 1 0-0 2. Totals: 8 2-2 21
3-pointers: NHS Saxton, Covino, Chrencik; UM – Wood 2, Opferman.

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