TREDYFFRIN >> A six-day layoff felt like an eternity for Ellie Mack and Conestoga.
The Pioneers limped toward the end of the regular season with a 3-2 finish followed by an upset loss to Springfield (Delco) in the Central League semifinals.
On Friday night, they put that behind them.
Mack finished with 14 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks as No. 7 Conestoga rode a dominant first quarter to a 45-31 victory over No. 26 Unionville in a District 1 Class AAAA first round game.
Once the Pioneers (19-5) were announced as the No. 7 seed for the District 1 Class AAAA field, Mack wanted to prove Conestoga was the same team that won 15 of its first 17 games.
Based on the first quarter against Unionville, point proven.
“It was really important to get off to that fast start,” Mack said. “Once Liz Scott scored the first six points, that just brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to the game.”
The Pioneers (19-5) advanced to the second round of the district playoffs and will play the winner of No. 10 Central Bucks West and No. 23 Kennett for a PIAA Class AAAA playoff berth Wednesday at a site and time to be determined. Central Bucks West and Kennett play their first round game Saturday.
Unionville (12-11) ends its season in the first round of districts for the second straight year. The Indians could not recover from a 16-2 deficit to start the game, one which the Indians never led despite Maddie Shanahan’s game-high 19 points.
The Conestoga press defense was largely responsible for the damage as the Pioneers forced four turnovers in the first 2:03 of the game against a Unionville lineup missing Grace Schrof, who was ruled out with an injury in pregame.
Scott was able to capitalize off those turnovers with the first six points for Conestoga as the Pioneers led 9-0 to start the game.
That fast start Conestoga was hoping for? Head coach Chris Jeffries got it as the Pioneers showed their last six games were a mirage of the team they have been throughout the season.
“We came out jazzed in that first quarter,” Jeffries said with a big smile. “This team played hard right out of the gate. We really wanted to put some pressure on them and get this game up and down. When you get six days to prepare for someone, you better be prepared. It came to fruition.”
A 3-pointer from just shy of half court at the buzzer by Shanahan stopped the Conestoga rout from being worse at the end of the first quarter as Unionville trailed 20-7.
The Indians struggled to get anything going offensively due to Mack’s defense on leading scorer Sam Pancoast, who was held to just eight points in the game and two going into halftime.
“Sam’s a really good player and very athletic,” Mack said. “With her physical play in the post, I just stood straight up and defended her as best I could.”
Despite Conestoga jumping out to a 30-11 halftime lead, the Pioneers let Unionville hang around in the second half. A 3-pointer by Shanahan cut the once 22-point lead to 40-27 with 4:33 to play.
Maria Koblish ended any hopes of a comeback two possessions later. Koblish hit a 3-pointer while being fouled to put the Pioneers up 43-27 with 2:58 left. The 3-pointer capped a dominant night for Koblish as she led Conestoga with 17 points.
“It’s a team effort all around,” Koblish said. “This team is all about getting the assists and finding the open player. The points just come with the team dynamic and tonight it happened to be me.”
“Since Christmas, Maria has been without a doubt an offensive threat,” Jeffries said. “She’s a natural scorer with a beautiful touch in the lane. With Ellie drawing three to four girls at a time, someone is going to be open and Maria enables a lot of things for us on the offensive end.”
Conestoga is heading to the second round for the first time in Mack’s four years playing for the school. After missing her junior year with a torn ACL, Mack and the Pioneers are one win away from the goal they set back in November.
“I finally have the team to not just win a district game, but get there (to states),” Mack said. “It’s taken four long years, but we did it. This team has done an amazing job bringing the intensity and energy every day. I’m really happy for them.”