LOWER MERION >> Paige Mott and her teammates needed only to think back to last year’s PAISAA semifinal against Germantown Academy for motivation.
GA had ended Abington Friends School’s season on a buzzer-beater in the PAISAA final four last year and Mott, the Kangaroos’ senior center, wasn’t up for it again. With fearless freshman Ty’Lah Washington pushing the pace and pouring in points on offense, Mott was able to command the defense.
It added up to a dominant effort as No. 5 AFS got some payback with a 63-42 win over the No. 1 Patriots in Friday’s PAISAA semifinals at Friends’ Central.
“We were very confident, we know what we can do and everybody has to play their own role so we can win,” Mott said. “We thought it about a lot today, even before we came here we talked about energy and how we had to bring it out on the floor. We’re super-excited, we’ve never gotten this far in the PAISAA tournament before.”
With senior Elle Stauffer already sidelined, the Patriots came into Friday’s contest even more shorthanded with senior Caitlyn Priore and junior Becca Booth, both starters, unavailable. Still, any offense with Maddie Vizza and Jaye Haynes in it is a dangerous one and AFS wasn’t relaxing due to who wasn’t on the court.
Mott, a Northwestern recruit, has been a mainstay in the Kangaroos lineup not only for her size, but her ability to be an impact defender. GA freshman Kendall Bennett gave it a good go, but Mott’s experience showed plenty especially when she had to switch onto one of the Patriots’ guards or wings.
“We pride ourselves on defense and having anybody be able to guard any position,” Mott said. “That goes on offense too, being able to score from any position.”
Washington was a force, scoring 25 points with six coming in a 9-2 first quarter run that put AFS 11-4. The freshman was constantly in attack mode, getting to the foul line 22 times and she hit a buzzer-beating three at the halftime horn to put the ‘Roos up 34-19 at the break.
Haynes and Vizza had little room to operate, with AFS (19-7) switching every screen to keep Vizza from getting open threes and defenders shading off their play to crowd the lane on Haynes’ drives. GA, which shot just 7-of-26 in the first half, was never able to get a big run going in either half.
“Whenever we got anything starting to go, they just answered it,” Vizza said. “Credit to them, they played an amazing game and have an amazing team all-around. We couldn’t get anything going tonight.”
Haynes didn’t score until the 5:30 mark of the second quarter while Vizza, who had two first quarter fouls, didn’t get on the board until 3:26 remained in the first half.
“They came out with a lot of energy, I thought we were able to match it but they were making shots and executed extremely well,” Haynes said. “We put ourselves into a hole, maybe we could have raised the intensity to dig ourselves out a little sooner. We had to calm down, we’ve seen teams who can switch and move, we had to realize it was like any other game.”
AFS stretched its lead to 20 on a free throw by Aby Caramou with 2:15 left in the third quarter and a three by Zaniyyah Ross-Barnes to open the fourth again put the Kangaroos ahead by 20. Ross-Barnes, who scored 16, also played excellent defense and added eight rebounds.
Mott scored eight, also pulling in 10 rebounds and blocking five shots for the game.
Roos senior Kendall Hodges said it’s taken most of the season, with a handful of close, tough losses thrown in, but AFS has come together at the right time. The guard, a starter since she was a freshman, credit the coaches for having the team prepared for GA’s offense and defense and added the entire team did it together.
“Everybody on our team is dedicated, whoever steps in front of them, we’re willing to step up and guard them,” Hodges said. “We all play with heart. We had to work toward this, but clearly it’s working pretty well.”
With senior tri-captain Jordan Smith out for the year, the Kangaroos had their own roster struggles to overcome with just nine players able to dress for games.
Germantown Academy (25-5) did finally get something going in the fourth, using the foul line to chip into the AFS lead and claw within 51-37. Washington split two sets of foul shots before Hodges found Aniyah Hayward in the left corner for a three to push the lead back to 19.
“A lot of people were saying with such a small team, we weren’t going to make it this far but we all want this really bad,” Hodges said. “We’re coming hard (Saturday.) It means a lot, it’s something that nobody can take away from me and I want it with this squad.”
Friday’s loss ends an outstanding run for GA’s seven seniors. They went 47-1 in Inter-Ac games, won four league titles and the PAISAA title last year and eventually, that’s what they’ll think back on.
“This class, these seven girls, we’ve been playing together forever and what we’ve done is amazing,” Haynes, a La Salle signee, said. “We won four straight Inter-Ac titles, we won a PAISAA championship and I wouldn’t have wanted to play with another group, I wouldn’t trade the four years for anything.”
Vizza and Haynes both reached 1,000 points this year while Stauffer, a Harvard recruit, would have if not for her injury. Priore returned strong from an ACL injury and will play at Gettysburg College while Molly Oeth, Sarah DiLello and Maddie Burns all filled various roles in their time with GA.
Haynes said she has a ton of faith in Jess Moore, Booth, Bennett and the other returning players to keep the legacy of the program going, but she and her classmates would have liked one more game together.
“It’s going to sting for a little bit, but we’ll always reflect on the four years we had,” Vizza, who has signed with Northeastern, said. “I’m really, really going to miss playing with them, they all worked unbelievably hard. I always say leave it all out on the court and that’s one thing I think this senior class always did. We loved playing together.”
AFS will try to finish the job Saturday against No. 2 Penn Charter, a 70-61 winner over No. 3 Notre Dame in the other semifinal. The PAISAA final is set for a 5:15 p.m. tip at Montgomery County Community College.
“We’re coming for it tomorrow,” Hodges said.
ABINGTON FRIENDS 63, GERMANTOWN ACADEMY 42
ABINGTON FRIENDS 17 17 12 17 – 63
GERMANTOWN ACADEMY 6 13 10 13 – 42
Abington Friends: Zaniyyah Ross-Barnes 7 0-0 16, Aby Camarou 1 1-2 3, Kendall Hodges 3 0-0 7, Ty’Lah Washington 5 13-22 25, Paige Mott 4 0-0 8, Aniyah Hayward 1 1-2 4. Totals:20 15-26 63.
Germantown Academy: Jess Moore 2 2-2 7, Maddie Burns 1 1-4 3, Jaye Haynes 5 2-2 13, Maddie Vizza 2 3-4 8, Kendall Bennett 4 1-3 9, Sarah DiLello 1 0-0 2, Charlotte DiLello 0 0-2 0. Totals: 15 9-17 42.
3-pointers: AFS – Ross-Barnes 2, Hodges, Hayward; GA – Haynes, Vizza, Moore.