SPRINGFIELD >> A basketball player’s development is never a linear process. Mistakes are made and lessons are learned.
Springfield’s Lexi Aaron played huge minutes for the Cougars last year. As a freshman she was one of the first players off the bench for a team that won a District 1 Class 5A championship, and this season she is a part of coach Ky McNichol’s starting lineup.
Coming off a rough outing against Garnet Valley, Aaron bounced back Tuesday to help the Cougars defeat reigning Central League champion Ridley for the second time this year. With one regular season game to play, the Cougars stayed unbeaten with a 44-27 victory.
Aaron was one of three Cougars to reach double figures, scoring 11 points, but her offensive output doesn’t do her performance justice. She grabbed three rebounds, dished two assists, made three steals and blocked a shot.
Aaron quickly put her last game in the rearview mirror and focused on having the best night of her season Tuesday.
“I just think it’s a next game kind of thing, that you just move on,” Aaron said. “I just try to do what I can to help the team and move forward so that it’s not in the back of my head.”
Aaron and classmate Mia Valerio’s defensive prowess set the tone in the first half. Springfield’s on-the-ball defense stifled the Green Raiders, who converted only three field goal attempts and committed 14 turnovers in the opening two quarters.
“All of our sophomores are valuable pieces to our success,” McNichol said. “Lexi struggled in the Garnet Valley game and really bounced back strong tonight. She did a lot of little things that helped us win. And she played with a ton of confidence tonight. We always tell the girls it’s about next-play mentality, and she brought that to tonight’s game. She learned from her mistakes … and really came to play a strong game offensively tonight and just did everything we needed her to do. She helped us tremendously with the win.”
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) February 24, 2021
The Cougars do not hesitate to use their young players, not while McNichol has run the show. Seniors Alexa Abbonizio and Rachel Conran have been starting since their first days as freshmen, and giving youngsters minutes is a big part of Springfield’s winning formula.
“I told Lexi and Mia early on that I don’t treat them as sophomores, and we expect a lot out of them,” McNichol said. “They’re going to make mistakes, but we treat them as seniors on the floor. And, you know, we put a lot of responsibilities in their hands and they step up to the challenge.”
Anabel Kreydt, another sophomore starter, added three points, three assists and two steals for the Cougars, who shot nearly 50 percent from the floor (16-of-34).
“Last year it didn’t feel like we were freshmen and this year it doesn’t feel like we’re sophomores because of these two seniors, Rachel and Alexa, who really gave us the confidence and support us even if we make a mistake,” Aaron said. “So it feels like we’re juniors out there playing with them.”
Springfield overcame a low-scoring first quarter (6-3 lead) by hitting four of its first six field goals in the second period. Abbonizio and Conran each hit a 3-pointer and 2-pointer in the second. The Cougars went on a 10-0 run and held a 24-9 lead at halftime.
“We did really well in transition,” said Abbonizio, who finished with 14 points. The senior guard broke the team’s all-time scoring record last week. “We looked up the floor and got the open for the layup several times, and that’s what really gave us all of our momentum and energy and that’s what fired us up.”
Conran had 11 points and converted some layups cutting inside the paint.
“That’s something I’ve been working on, yeah,” said Conran, who added a team-high six rebounds. “I found out I can get some quick (baskets) and we’ve done a great job screening and moving, especially when the jump shots aren’t falling. It’s been very important for me this year.”
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) February 24, 2021
Ridley made too many mistakes and failed to find its collective stroke. Shannen Hinchey gave the Green Raiders a boost when the senior forward tallied seven of her team-high eight points in the second half. Senior guard Lindsay Boyd added seven points for the Green Raiders (8-2), who saw their winning streak end at eight games.
Ridley’s only two losses have been to Springfield. It’s very possible the teams will meet again in a rematch of last year’s Central League final. Springfield (13-0) and Ridley (8-2) are the top two teams in the Central League standings and bound for first-round byes in next week’s tournament.
In other Central League action:
Radnor 52, Haverford 51 >> Katie Deshan and Sally Austen each made a pair of free throws in the third overtime to help Radnor to its biggest win of the season.
Cierra Hopson and Ellie Rinehart scored 12 points apiece for Radnor, which overcame a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
Caroline Dotsey led all players with 25 points for the Fords. Chiara MacGillivray drilled a 3-pointer as time expired in the fourth quarter to force the first overtime. She finished with 10 points.
Conestoga 40, Penncrest 32 >> Bridget Dawson made three 3-pointers and totaled 16 points, but the Lions fell short against the Pioneers. Kat Harding added nine points.