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Archbishop Wood’s defense leads to PCL semifinal bid

WARMINSTER >> The seemingly simple task of advancing the ball over the midcourt line often becomes a trying task against Archbishop Wood.

Thursday, Archbishop Ryan was the latest team to feel the struggle of trying to score on Wood’s defense. With a deep rotation of defensively-minded guards applying pressure in front of a mobile and sizable back line, the Vikings are grinding teams down on defense at the right time of year.

Things got a frantic in the fourth, but Wood came through at the foul line to put away the Ragdolls, 49-34 and advance to next week’s Philadelphia Catholic League semifinals.

“We’re playing tough and moving our feet,” Wood coach Mike McDonald said. “We have a lot of tenacious guards and height behind them, so it’s hard. If you can find a way past the guards, there’s someone there contesting you shot over the top. It’s tough to score on us.”

The win, which is Wood’s 13th in a row, pits the Vikings (17-6) against the last team to hand them a loss in Cardinal O’Hara in the PCL semifinals at Philadelphia University on Feb. 16. To get to that game, Wood had to take care of a tough Ryan (12-11) team.

That effort started with trying to hold Ryan’s senior leader, Ashley Smink, under control. Wood’s five-guard unit had another strong game with most of the job guarding Smink falling to junior Cassie Sebold. Sebold had stepped up her game in recent weeks, scoring nine points Thursday, and has been a major pest on defense.

Other guards, including Karly Brown and Shannon May, got shifts on the Ragdolls senior, but Sebold got the bulk of those minutes and spent them shadowing Smink all over.

“We’ve played together for a while and know each other for a while,” Sebold said. “She’s a really good player who knows how to make plays. I just have to stay in front of her when I play her and I know she can shoot it. You always have to keep a hand up and slide your feet.”

Sebold said she knew to look out for Smink’s behind-the-back dribble and also credited her practice battles with Bassetti for helping her raise her game defensively.

Wood’s first-half defense was suffocating as the Vikings held Ryan to just one made field goal on 1-of-13 shooting, leading 12-4 after one and 27-13 at the half. But the Ragdolls were good at getting to the line, with 11 of their 13 first half points coming from the charity stripe.

Through three quarters, Smink was held to four points on 0-of-2 shooting and four made foul shots. But the senior stepped up in the fourth, getting the best of Wood’s defense a couple of times to draw fouls and ended up with seven of her 11 points in the frame. Not coincidentally, her surge saw Ryan chop Wood’s lead down to 11 in a fourth that saw the Vikings go without a make from the floor.

“In the fourth quarter she decided she wanted to do whatever she could to win,” McDonald said. “When you play that way it sometimes leads to good things and it started to do that for her. But, I’ll take the double-digit win.”

After a rough start at the line, Wood started to make its free throws and hit on 11-of-17 in the fourth quarter to push the lead to 13 and later 15. Wood’s last 15 points all came from the foul line. A key moment came with 43.6 seconds left when Sebold hit her first but missed the second, only to have Bailey Greenberg rebound it and earn herself two more foul shots.

Greenberg led Wood with 15 points and 10 rebounds, serving as a stabilizer for an offense that never found the same groove it had coming into Thursday’s game. But, Wood still delivered a 15-point win and six of the eight players to see time scored at least five points.

“Recently we’ve been playing really well as a team so that’s just helped our overall game together,” Greenberg said. “Our guards do an awesome job of pressuring the ball and keeping up the pressure so that makes it easier for us.”

McDonald allowed that the Vikings might have been trying to jam the ball inside a bit too much against Ryan, but in the past few weeks, the team has actually been moving the ball very well. Greenberg said the guards, like Bassetti, Brown and Sebold creating penetration has opened up a lot of options inside and out.

After a slow start to the season, more players have grown in confidence and now the Vikings feel that whoever is out on the floor is capable of putting ball through hoop if needed. Thursday, Wood still chalked up 11 assists, five of those coming from Bassetti, on its 15 made baskets.

“We’re not the same team as the last time we played O’Hara,” Greenberg said. “We’re different, we play with confidence. It should be a good game.

“Claire does a tremendous job of leading our team, Cassie Sebold has really stepped up. Everyone has stepped up, Katie May, Kate Connolly, our bench with Shannon and Meg Neher. It’s awesome having a bench we’re confident in.”

Defeating O’Hara presents a considerable challenge, especially with its considerable guard talent including Kenzie Gardler, Hannah Nihill and Mary Sheehan.

“I feel that we’re a lot stronger and we’re playing more together,” Sebold said. “That’s what we need to beat a team like O’Hara.”

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