Archbishop Wood pulls away in 3rd, tops West Chester Rustin to reach PIAA-5A final

BENSALEM >> The evening started slowly for the West Chester Rustin girls basketball team. Two three-pointers put the Golden Knights in a hole they could not dig out of, and their fantastically successful season ended one win short of the ultimate goal — Hershey.

Ava Renniger scored 17 points and Emily Knouse added 16 as Archbishop Wood led from start to finish to post a 52-35 victory over the Golden Knights in the semifinals of the PIAA 5A Girls Basketball Tournament at Bensalem High School on Tuesday.

The Vikings (23-8) try to win their third straight championship after capturing the 4A title the last two years. They face District 7 champion South Fayette at the Giant Center in Hershey on Saturday at 6 p.m.

“It should be fun,” said Wood coach Mike McDonald. “They really made it a point to be about each other and the whole team has bought into it. It’s just a close group as well as being happy about going to the state final.”

Archbishop Wood players hold Hershey Kisses throw on the court as they celebrate their 52-35 victory over West Chester Rustin in the PIAA-5A semifinals on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Wood, who held a height advantage over Rustin at just about every position, used it to disturb Rustin on drives to the basket and to thwart it on mid-range jumpers.

Rustin star Laine McGurk was held to seven points and did not have a field goal until the third period. Delaney Finnegan had the assignment to guard McGurk for most of the game and did a tremendous job of not letting her get untracked.

“It starts with Delaney Finnegan,” added McDonald. “She’s tough. She’s done it all year. She’s played kids at the national level. She’s a kid who can guard a lot of people out there. She’s just a phenomenal, phenomenal defender and a tough kid, a gym rat. In the biggest stage in her senior season, she answered the call, no problem.”

West Chester Rustin’s Laine McGurk (20) puts up a shot as Archbishop Wood’s Delaney Finnegan (20) contests during their PIAA-5A semifinal on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Rustin was under the gun from the beginning, as two three-pointers from Knouse gave the Vikings a 6-0 lead, one they never relinquinshed.

“It was huge for us as a team and huge for her,” said McDonald. “After the last game, she was a little bit down because she knew she knew was getting open. She knows she can shoot it.”

Rustin did battle back and cut it to 14-11 on a pair of free throws from Elizabeth McGurk. Renniger hit two from the line to make it 16-11 after one.

Wood built a 25-14 lead late in the second quarter before Lola Flynn and Elizabeth McGurk recorded baskets to cut the deficit to 25-19 at the halftime break.

Archbishop Wood’s Emily Knouse (30) drives up the court against West Chester Rustin during their PIAA-5A semifinal on Tuesday, March 18, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Wood was up, 29-22, before Laine McGurk made her first field goal with 4:42 left. She added a second almost two minutes later and Rustin trailed by just 29-28.

Then Wood made the decisive surge. Renniger scored on a drive, then on a reverse layup and a foul for a three-point play, to bump the lead back to 34-28.

Deja Evans, who also had three blocks, scored along with three points from Kara Meredith to complete the 10-0 run and hold a 39-28 advantage heading into the fourth.

Archbishop Wood’s Kara Meredith (24) drives against West Chester Rustin during their PIAA-5A semifinal on Tuesday, March 18, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

The Golden Knights were unable to cut into the lead, and when the buzzer sounded, the Wood crowd showered the floor with Hershey Kisses to show where there next game will be.

“We had an amazing journey as a team,” said Rustin coach Lauren Stackhouse. “I couldn’t be more proud of the way my team played day in and day out. We’ve been going at this for a long time and we set big goals for ourselves and we’re not just a team, we’re a family. It’s not just a basketball game, it’s more than that for me.”

Rustin winds up at 27-4 with league and district titles. The legacy of not only Laine McGurk, but fellow senior starters Elizabeth McGurk, Ava Panetta and Flynn will not be soon forgotten.

“I can’t say enough about this group of seniors,” Stackhouse added. “I told the girls, ‘you guys have paved the way for Rustin basketball. You have shown the way kids stay. You have made a statement for public schools.’ When kids stick around, great things can happen.”

West Chester Rustin head coach Lauren Stackhouse hugs Laine McGurk (20) as McGurk goes to the bench in the fourth quarter of te Golden Knights’ PIAA-5A semifinal against Archbishop Wood on Tuesday, March 21, 2023 at Bensalem High School. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Archbishop Wood 52, WC Rustin 35
Archbishop Wood: Renniger 7 3-5 17; McCloskey 0 0-0 0; Topakas 0 0-0 0; Evans 3 0-2 6; Finnegan 2 0-3 4; Treiter 2 2-4 6; Meredith 1 0-3 3; Knouse 4 4-4 16; Greer 0 0-0 0; Windish 0 0-0 0. Totals: 23 9-21 52.
WC Rustin: Kraft 0 0-0 0; Panetta 2 0-0 4; Flynn 2 0-1 5; Loper 0 0-0 0; Bozckowski 0 0-0 0; E. McGurk 5 2-2 13; L. McGurk 2 1-2 7; Betchyk 0 0-0 0; Barry 0 1-2 1; Stackhouse 1 3-5 5; Evangelista 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 9-12 35.
Archbishop Wood 16 9 14 13 — 52
WC Rustin 11 8 9 7 — 35
3-point goals: Knouse 4, Meredith, L. McGurk 2, E. McGurk.

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