Defensive switch propels Gwynedd Mercy past Lower Moreland for District 1-4A title

WHITEMARSH >> Gwyedd Mercy Academy girls basketball coach Tom Lonergan has seen a change in his team.

At the beginning of the year, the Monarchs weren’t a strong defensive team and it showed. But as the weeks went on, GMA started to get better and it allowed the coaching staff to start adding more ideas, styles and strategies on the defensive end. Now, Lonergan sees a very solid defensive team.

The Monarchs showed everyone else that change on Saturday, when their defense turned things up in the second half and locked down Lower Moreland for a 46-33 win in the District 1-4A girls basketball championship game at Plymouth Whitemarsh.

“I give them a lot of credit because we’ve been improving leaps and bounds defensively over the last month,” Lonergan said. “It was something that for most of the season, we weren’t a very good defensive team. You can see the major improvements and we’ve shown it, I thought, starting in the (AACA) playoffs.”

Lower Moreland (19-8) has been a good defensive team all year and the Lions executed an excellent first half on that end, keying in on GMA sophomore Kaylie Griffin. Griffin finished with a team-high 14, but only had five in the first half as a combination of LM defenders but mainly senior Allison Asmann, kept the all-AACA guard from doing her thing.

Griffin did the next best thing, and kept the ball moving. Her best pass of the first half was a dish to freshman Bianca Coleman, who buried a long 3-pointer for a 15-13 lead.

“We had to use more down screens and change up our offense a little bit,” Griffin said. “We ran more of an outside spacing so I could drive and kick, so there were a lot of kicks, especially in the second half.

“It’s been our goal all season to spread the ball so I looked for the next pass. I think we all did that very well today and that’s why we won.”

A guard-heavy team, Gwynedd Mercy (15-10) usually plays a zone defense to help counter some its lack in size. But as the team got more sure of itself defensively, the coaches started to sprinkle in man-to-man defenses and only increased their use as the season went on.

With Lower Moreland looking to get the ball inside to Nicole Castor and Ceili Courduff, letting them either score or pass back out for perimeter shots, the Monarchs had to make a switch.

So, down 21-17 at half, they came out for the third quarter and started playing man.

“In our league, we hadn’t seen the double-high (screen) so we couldn’t guard that, we couldn’t take it away,” Griffin said. “We switched to man and played a lot more aggressive and it worked a lot more taking away their threes.”

Lower Moreland went up 25-22 on a layup by Phoebe Lynch with 5:04 left in the third quarter. Over the next 11 minutes, the Lions scored just three more points, with GMA using a 10-0 run to end the quarter putting the game firmly in the Monarchs’ hands.

“That’s been our theme for the whole year and it’s the main thing we’ve talked about, developing that consistency,” LM coach Richard Becker said. “We’re just not consistent enough in what we do, we have potential, but we’re not there.”

Lower Moreland also gave up eight offensive rebounds, including one that Maddie Newell grabbed before beating the third-quarter buzzer, sending GMA into the fourth up seven instead of five.

Going man also allowed the Monarchs to defend Lower Moreland’s inside game better. The Lions still got passes inside, but GMA was able to stick its marks and contest those shots.

Coleman was terrific for GMA, getting the start and scoring 13 points with four rebounds. She and forward Carly Bachinsky accounted for five of the Monarchs’ offensive boards and Coleman splashed a trio of 3-pointers, all at key times.

“Bianca and Carly had huge games for us,” Lonergan said. “(Castor) was looking to clog up driving lanes, so Carly was able to kind of float in there and hit some big shots and Bianca, 13 points and getting her own rebounds half the time, she played more minutes than she usually does.”

It’s the second straight District 1-4A title for Gwynedd Mercy, and the second straight over Lower Moreland. Both teams still qualified for the state playoffs, for the Lions it will be their third straight trip.

With nearly two weeks to wait before the PIAA playoffs begin, Becker said it’s a chance to get his team back in the gym and use that time well.

“We said ‘whenever our last game is, what do you want the feeling to be?’ is it going to be this again, or let’s choose one thing to get better at,” Becker said. “It’s going to be rebounding and then finishing, finishing and finishing.”

Griffin wasn’t worried the layoff would impact her team too much, with the sophomore saying the Monarchs just needed to remember how good the last two wins have felt and let it motivate them during the layoff.

Lonergan is also glad his team has some time off, as a couple players need the rest and a few others are either out or still working back from illness. His biggest takeaway however, was that his team can now do some things defensively.

“It’s such a plus for us because now going forward, we can throw different looks at teams instead of them preparing for one,” Lonergan said.

Gwynedd Mercy Academy 46, Lower Moreland 33
Gwynedd Mercy Academy 12 5 15 14 – 46
Lower Moreland 10 11 4 8 – 33
Gwynedd Mercy Academy: Kaylie Griffin 3 6-7 14, Alyssa Martin 1 1-1 3, Reganne Flannery 2 0-0 4, Bianca Coleman 4 2-3 13, Carly Bachinsky 4 0-1 9, Mollie Hanson 0 1-2 1, Maddie Newell 1 0-1 2. Totals: 15 10-15 46.
Lower Moreland: Riley Malone 2 0-0 5, Phoebe Lynch 6 1-2 16, Nicole Castor 2 2-2 6, Ceili Courduff 0 3-4 3, Alexandre Krutsinger 1 0-0 3.
3-pointers: GMA – Coleman 3, Griffin 2, Bachinsky; LM – Lynch 3, Malone, Krutsinger.

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