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Girls Basketball Notebook: Expect Central League tournament to be a wide-open affair

Marple Newtown's Makenzie Hilden puts a shot up in a game against Springfield in January. The Tigers have made steady gains this season and look to compete for a Central League title next week. (Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group)

There are five teams that could conceivably win the Central League title.

Anyone who’s been paying attention will admit that Springfield is the best team. The Cougars are on a roll, winning their first 13 games, including a 44-27 rout of Ridley Tuesday night.

Generally speaking, though, the league is fairly balanced. And in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, all it takes is for one average team to have a great night against a good team to change everything.

So, let’s take a look at the top-five teams (and one wild card) that could win it all. The 12-team tournament begins Saturday and run until next Thursday. The top-four teams in the regular season will earn a first-round bye.

Springfield (13-0) >> Yeah, the Cougars are clearly the team to beat. Led by senior guards Alexa Abbonizio and Rachel Conran, they are poised to make a return to the final for the fourth straight year. Eight of their 13 wins have been by 10 points or more..

Ridley (9-2) >> The Green Raiders simply didn’t bring their best against Springfield Tuesday. Their only losses have come against the Cougars, whom they defeated in last year’s final. Nevertheless, it would be unwise to dismiss the Raiders, who are led by seniors Lindsay Boyd, Shannen Hinchey and Kylie McNicholas.

Haverford (7-4) >> The Fords have been knocking at the door for several years now. They haven’t won a title in nearly a decade, but this could be their year. Sophomore forward Caroline Dotsey is one of the most unguardable talents in the league. Chiara MacGillivray is a sharp-shooting guard and junior guard Emma Rowland is one of the top defensive players in the league.

Marple Newtown (8-5) >> The Tigers are the most improved team in the league from a year ago. They have a big win against Haverford and played Springfield extremely tough on opening night. Marple’s top six of Brooke Impriano and Mary O’Brien, juniors Haley Levy and Nikki Mostardi, and seniors Mackenzie Hilden and Emily Reynolds have been fantastic. They battled Ridley in a six-point loss and dropped a three-point decision to Harriton, so the Tigers have proved they can compete with anyone in the league.

Harriton (8-2) >> The one non-Delco team in the league that is giving everyone fits is the Rams, who last year stunned defending champion Garnet Valley in the quarterfinal round. Although they suffered double-digit losses to Springfield and Ridley, this is a very strong team led by dynamic junior guard Annie Aspesi and seniors Alexia Louca and Sydney Kasmer.

Finally, if you’re looking for a darkhorse … don’t sleep on Radnor (5-8). Under longtime coach Mark Jordan, Radnor won Central League and District 1 champions. While “RGB” has endured its struggles in an up-and-down year, it enjoyed its best win of the season Tuesday, a three-overtime victory over Haverford. Radnor is hanging around despite missing its top players, senior Brienne Williams and junior Ellie Davis, both of whom opted out of the season. But Radnor is receiving plenty of contributions from senior forwards Cierra Hopson and Ellie Rinehart, and senior guard Sally Austen.

• • •

For the second year in a row, it’s very possible a Delco school does not advance to the Philadelphia Catholic League final.

OK … that seems like a bold prediction. After all, the PCL season is young, relatively speaking, and there’s plenty to be determined before the final regular season date (March 9) arrives.

All three of the county’s PCL squads – Archbishop Carroll, Bonner-Prendergast and Cardinal O’Hara – have suffered at least two losses in the loaded Red Division, which features the likes of Archbishop Wood, Neumann-Goretti and reigning champion West Catholic. Due to the pandemic, there will not be a traditional PCL tournament; instead, the top two teams from the Red Division at the conclusion of the regular season will play for the championship.

It’s been a strange year in the PCL as several teams have showed they could be the one to beat.

Last Sunday, coach Tom Stewart’s Bonner-Prendie team pulled off the biggest upset of the season with a 69-65 win over West Catholic. The Pandas had entered the day winless in five games.

Carroll fell to West Catholic in overtime Tuesday night. O’Hara and Wood split their meetings, but O’Hara has lost to Carroll and West Catholic. That leaves Wood (6-1 Red Division) and West Catholic (3-1) as the early frontrunners. Carroll (4-2) and O’Hara (4-3) are in third and fourth place.

The good news for Carroll and O’Hara is they both have a relatively clear path to the PIAA tournament. Carroll moved from being a Class 5A to Class 6A program, while O’Hara dropped down from 6A to 5A. Wood also reclassified, going from 5A to 4A. O’Hara already defeated its stiffest PCL 6A competition, St. Hubert’s, last week. Bonner-Prendie would need a revenge win against Wood, which is the strongest team in Class 4A.

To contact Matt Smith, email mattsmith@21st-centurymedia.com

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