Philadelphia >> A few minutes after Great Valley’s razor-thin 29-27 loss to top seed Springfield in the PIAA District 1 5A girls’ basketball championship final Saturday at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, Patriot head coach Alex Venarchik talked about how far his team has come this season.
“We had so many question marks at the beginning of the year, and to make it to the district championship game and play the No. 1 seed – a heck of a team – and hold them to 29 points and lose by just two points, I can’t be more proud of a team after a loss,” said Venarchik. “Am I disappointed that we lost? Yes, but there’s still that feeling inside of me that is just so happy for these girls, that they got to experience all this.”
The game was a spirited defensive battle played to a fever pitch on both sides, with numerous turnovers, missed shots and scrambles for loose balls. Springfield had six seniors on its roster, and No. 3 seed Great Valley only one (Tessa Libertascioli), yet the Patriots hung tough with the Cougars throughout the contest, holding the lead at various points in each of the first three quarters.
“I don’t think Springfield was expecting us to hold them to 29 points,” said Liberatoscioli, who led the Patriots (23-5) with 10 points. “But defense is one of the main things we work on in practice – defense and rebounding.”
“You look around at our locker room, and everyone in there is a warrior,” said Venarchik. “Emily DuPont, Emma DeRobertis and others throwing their bodies around, getting rebounds, stopping Springfield’s two best players. It was just guts … and the desire to win. You can’t say enough about that kind of effort from [our] team.”
Late in the second quarter, the Patriots took their biggest lead of the afternoon, going ahead 14-9 after DuPont hit a trey from the left side 2:21 before halftime.
“We were getting the defensive rebounds,” said Liberatoscioli, who pulled down 10 rebounds. “we just kept grabbing the ball and going [downcourt].”
Just before halftime, Springfield’s Alyssa Long nailed a trey from the right side to tie the score at 14-14. The score remained 14-14 for the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third quarter, until Great Valley sophomore Gracen Curley hit a field goal from the top of the key to give the Patriots a 16-14 lead.
Unfortunately for the Patriots, that field goal represented the only two points Great Valley scored in the entire third quarter.
“We were moving the ball and getting to the foul line in the first half,” said Venarchik. “We didn’t do that in the second half. The one thing I wish we did was get to the foul line [draw more fouls] in the second half.”
The Patriots reached the free throw line only once in the second half – when DuPont drained two foul shots with 4:11 left in the fourth quarter.
Springfield took a 21-16 at the end of the third quarter when junior guard Alexa Abbonizio hit a trey from the right side just before the buzzer.
“Give credit to Springfield,” said Venarchik. “They’re a very good team, with very good ballhandlers and shooters, and it’s a handful to try to match up with them.”
The Patriots matched up well with Springfield defensively, as the Cougars missed numerous shots from underneath the basket. Great Valley held Springfield to just six field goals Saturday.
“It was our team defense – just sliding over and being in position to contest shots,” said Venarchik. “Everyone had a role in our defense today – and they all played it well. We wanted to get out on their shooters – we didn’t want Nos. 5 and 15 (Abbonizio and 5-foot-8 junior forward Rachel Conran) to get hot – so we had to keep a hand in their faces.”
Great Valley held Conran scoreless Saturday, and limited Abbonizio to just nine points. The game’s leading scorer, Sp[ringfield senior Alyssa Long, scored 14 points mainly on the strength of her 11-for-12 performance from the free throw line. All of Springfield’s eight fourth-quarter points were on free throws – Long went 8-for-8 from the charity stripe in the final period.
Long hit a couple of free throws to give Springfield a 23-16 lead with 5:13 left in the fourth period, then Great Valley called time out and began a comeback. DuPont soon worked her way inside for a basket, then following an Abbonizio foul, the Great Valley junior guard went to the free throw line and converted both shots to make it 23-20 with 4:11 to go.
Following a mixture of missed shots and turnovers from both teams, Long drew a foul with 52.5 seconds left and converted both ends of a one-and-one to make it 25-20.
Liberatoscioli drove inside for a basket to cut the Cougars’ lead to 25-22 with 30.2 seconds left. Three seconds later, Long was fouled, went to the free throw line on a one-and-one, and made both ends once again to give Springfield a 27-22 lead with 27.4 seconds left.
DuPont drove in for a basket with 16.1 seconds left, then 1.7 seconds later, Long was fouled and converted both free throws to give Springfield a 29-24 lead.
Liberatoscioli hit a trey with one second remaining to make it 29-27, then the Cougars ran the clock out for the district championship, their second in the last four years. Great Valley won a District 1 championship (Class AAA) in 1988.
The Patriots got a solid rebounding performance from the entire lineup Saturday, including Liberatoscioli, DeRobertis (seven rebounds), junior guard Ashley Sullvan (four), DuPont (three), Curley (three) and freshman Gia Sioutis (two).
Venarchik said, “Our rebounding today was tremendous – I thought we were more physical today than we were [in the district semifinal win] against Radnor. We did a great job of getting two hands on the ball today. Our girls still want to improve, and I can’t say enough good things about them. …. We just came up two points short.
“We’re going to take a couple of days off, rest up, heal up. And I think these girls want to keep playing [in States]. They showed no indication [today] that they’re done with the season. The seasons are broken up into different parts, and now we’re on to another part.”
Springfield 29, Great Valley 27
Great Valley 5 9 2 11 – 27
Springfield 6 8 7 8 – 29
Great Valley (27): Liberatoscioli 4 1-2 10, DeRobertis 0 2-3 2, Sullivan 0 0-0 0, DuPont 3 2-3 9, Sioutis 1 0-0 2, Valyo 0 0-0 0, Lum 0 0-0 0, Curley 2 0-1 4, Totals 10 5-9 27.
Springfield (29): Long 1 11-12 14, Abbonizio 3 1-3 9, Positglione 2 0-0 5, Conran 0 0-0 0, Aaron 0 0-0 0, Johnson 0 0-0 0, Valerio 0 1-2 1, Totals 6 13-17 29.
3-point goals: Liberatoscioli, DuPont, Long, Abbonizio 2, Postiglione.