LOWER GWYNEDD >> It was a minor change that opened up so, much for Archbishop Wood.
With the Vikings’ offense having gone cold and Gwynedd Mercy Academy having clawed back within six midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, Wood coach Mike McDonald made an adjustment. It wasn’t some sweeping basketball reform, just two seniors swapping spots against the Monarchs’ zone, but it was more than enough to open the floodgates.
Wood’s 11-0 run to close the third quarter, coupled with another emphatic defensive effort, proved the difference as the Vikings handed Gwynedd Mercy Academy its first loss with a 50-27 defeat in the PIAA Class 4A girls’ basketball quarterfinals played at Wissahickon.
“Coming into this game, we knew if we played our game and played the kind of basketball we know how to play, that we were going to come out on top,” Ryanne Allen, Wood’s newly-minted All-American, said. “We play all those out-of-league games to start to season the prepare for games like this, so we know if we play as a team, that’s how we’re going to get past a team like (GMA).”
Wood, the defending PIAA 4A champion, advances to Saturday’s semifinals where it will face another strong opponent in District 11 champion Jim Thorpe after the Olympians ousted Dunmore 40-30 on Wednesday. Allen, who was named to the Jordan Brand Classic All-American game on Wednesday afternoon, led Wood with 17 points while Deja Evans had six points and 11 rebounds and six different Vikings hit a 3-pointer.
The season ended earlier than the Monarchs had hoped, and for a second straight year at the hands of the Vikings in the state quarterfinals, but the final score and final result shouldn’t detract from Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s accomplishments. GMA finishes 26-1, setting a school record for wins on top of a fifth straight District 1 4A title, an AACA tournament title that followed a second straight undefeated league season and a defense that prior to Wednesday, had not allowed 50 points in a game all season.
“We tried our best to stay focused and not get sped up or out of control and we had moments but unfortunately, not enough of them,” Monarchs coach Tom Lonergan said. ”
Wednesday’s start went how Wood wanted and exactly the opposite of what Gwynedd Mercy Academy needed. GMA senior Bianca Coleman, one of the team’s best defenders and a primary ball-handler on offense, picked up two quick fouls that forced the Monarchs to adjust very early on, all while Wood seemed to shake off the shooting slump that had slogged the second round win over Scranton Prep.
The Vikings got off to a 7-0 start, then led 12-2 midway through the first mainly by using their size inside, which in turn led to some shots from the perimeter as the Monarchs tried to make up for the disadvantage and their trouble. A three by Ava Renninger put Wood in front 22-12 with 5:32 left in the first half, but the offense wouldn’t score again until Bri Bowen’s and-one with 5:39 in the third quarter.
After losing to Cardinal O’Hara in the PCL semifinals, the Vikings re-committed themselves to defense and haven’t given up 30 points in any of their state games. That’s where they leaned when the shots stopped falling.
“Seeing us able to do that, it’s what puts the energy into our offense,” Allen said. “It’s a plus for us. Defense was an area of struggle, so being able to pick it up, force turnovers and get points that way really fuels our offense now which is better for our team.”
Still, it was only a 27-21 lead when Bianca Coleman scored with 2:40 left in the third. That’s when McDonald had Allen, who was playing the high post against GMA’s zone, switch with Bowen on the perimeter and the two seniors immediately connected when Bowen found Allen for three to kick-start the run.
“Bri had a nice play out of the high post right before that, which kind of triggered it,” McDonald said. “Kara Meredith hit a huge three out of a timeout, that’s kind of what you hope for putting the different kids in those situations.”
Allen had a steal turned layup midway through the run, but the PCL’s MVP said the biggest shots of the stretch were the 3-pointers that reserves Meredith and Allie Fleming hit to give Wood a 38-21 lead going to the final frame. Lonergan also felt the run was a game-changer and felt he could have made a counter-adjustment when Wood substituted after Allen’s three.
“The only thing we could have done differently there was recognize the bench kids and gone back to our man,” Lonergan said. “We went to our zone when the starters were out because of how well they’d attacked us in the first quarter so I put the matchup zone in to try and keep them in check. To their credit, they had a couple kids come in on the bench and hit those threes, maybe going back to man takes some of that away.”
The loss marked the end for a special senior class at Gwynedd which includes Bianca and Sofia Coleman, Maddie Newell, Lizzie Lowry and Jenna Mangan. Newell had a team-high 11 points and went down playing hard as ever and Mangan provided a silver lining to the night, getting her first extended playing time of the season after having knee surgery in July that limited her to token appearances.
Mangan, who didn’t score but helped keep the defense up while GMA managed fouls, was glad she got a final opportunity to play with her team and said the last game isn’t the way she’ll remember the season.
“It was so much fun, I didn’t get to play all season so all I wanted to do was get back on the court,” Mangan, who is hoping to play club in college, said. “I didn’t think I would, there was a lot going against me. I’m proud of myself because I remember where I was in July, but I’m also so proud of this team and what we were able to accomplish. They supported me throughout all of it, so this meant the world to me.”
Lonergan had nothing but praise not only for his seniors, but his entire team for their historic season.
“I’m proud our team was able to show the people here today that we could play some defense for a team that isn’t very big,” Lonergan said. “They had no quit in them.”
Jim Thorpe is a very good team and if the Vikings want to take that last step back to Hershey, they’ll need to keep doing what’s carried them this far.
“It comes back to our defense, that’s our focus moving forward,” McDonald said. “Some days, maybe more shots are going to fall but as long as you can defend and take care of the basketball, that’s the key to winning at this point.”
Allen didn’t even know she was under consideration for the Jordan Brand Classic.
So when her mom, Amanda, texted her Wednesday morning it came as a welcome surprise. The senior, a Vanderbilt recruit and an unashamed enthusiast of Jordan Brand footwear, called the recognition an honor.
“To have my teammates’ support and Coach Mike’s support to get me to this point, it’s just very cool,” Allen said. “I’m looking forward to being part of the atmosphere and around all these players going to different colleges around the county, it’s really cool for me.”
The Jordan Brand Classic is returning after a two-year hiatus (McDonald had been slated to help coach the 2020 game before it was cancelled) and will be played in Chicago on April 15. Allen is the only female player from Pennsylvania to have been named to the event.
“Chicago’s a very cool place, I’ve been there with my AAU teams so I’m excited to be going back,” Allen said.
Archbishop Wood 50, GMA 27
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 17 5 16 12 – 50
GWYNEDD MERCY ACADEMY 7 7 7 6 – 27
AW: Ryanne Allen 5 5-6 17, Bri Bowen 1 3-3 5, Deja Evans 3 0-2 6, Delaney Finnegan 2 1-2 5, Shannon Morgan 1 0-0 3, Ava Renninger 1 0-0 3, Allie Fleming 1 0-0 3, Kara Meredith 1 0-0 3, Emily Knouse 1 2-2 5. Totals: 16 11-15 50
GMA: Maddie Newell 4 0-2 11, Hannah Griffin 2 1-1 6, Bianca Coleman 2 2-2 6, Sofia Coleman 1 0-0 2, Dylan Burke 1 0-1 2. Totals: 10 3-6 27
3-pointers: AW – Allen 2, Morgan, Renninger, Fleming, Knouse, Meredith; GMA – Newell 3, Griffin