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Harriton beats WC East in overtime; heads to district final

Lower Merion >> Harriton is headed to the PIAA District 1 5A girls basketball championship final, thanks to its 46-43 overtime win against a never-say-die West Chester East squad Saturday.

“It was a dogfight,” said Harriton head coach Chris Wielgus. “It comes down to heart, it comes down to fight, and both teams had it. We just happened to come out on the winning end, and I’m so proud of our players and their ability to persevere, not only through the pandemic, but we had a player go down today with a sprained ankle [senior Alexia Louca] and we kept going.”

Louca later returned to the contest, and converted two free throws in overtime for the No. 2 seed Rams, whose attack was led Saturday by junior Annie Aspesi (19 points).

“It was our heart that pulled us through,” said Aspesi. “When things went wrong, we didn’t fold, but we stayed together.”

Harriton, the No. 2 seed, will face top seed Springfield in the District 1 5A championship final Wednesday. It is believed that this is the first time a Harriton girls’ basketball team has advanced to the District 1 championship final.

The Rams, hosting No. 3 seed West Chester East Saturday, gave the hometown fans something to cheer about early by jumping out to a 7-0 lead, getting treys from senior Lexy Calhoun and junior Mady Calhoun. Aspesi drove in for a layup just before the first quarter ended to give the Rams a 9-4 lead at the end of the period.

Early in the second quarter, Aspesi penetrated inside for a couple of layups to give the hosts a 13-4 lead; but West Chester East battled back with a rally of their own to cut the Rams’ halftime lead to 15-14. Viking senior Lauren Klieber, who is fourth on West Chester East’s all-time scoring list, had nine points by halftime.

Early in the third quarter, Klieber hit a trey to tie the score at 17-17. It was the first of only two times during regulation play that West Chester East did not trail Harriton – the second time was when Viking senior Megan Merten hit a trey from the corner with five seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 40-40. At no time during regulation play did the Vikings hold the lead; yet they never gave up.

“That’s what makes this team so special; I know they’re never going to give up,” said an emotional West Chester East head coach Erin Listrani following a lengthy post-game meeting with her team. “Harriton came out really strong and jumped on us right away, but we chipped away at that and got where we needed to be. I was proud of the way we hung with Harriton. This team is a close group, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”

When Louca went out of the game with a sprained ankle late in the third quarter, Harriton freshman Felicity McFillin came into the contest. Shortly thereafter, she drove in for a layup, then 30 seconds later connected from the right corner, for a 32-22 Rams’ lead.

In the fourth quarter, West Chester East gradually chipped away at the Rams’ lead, with Merten and Klieber scoring all 16 of the Vikings’ points in the period. East cut Harriton’s lead to 37-35 with 4:11 left; then Mady Calhoun hit a trey from the right side to put the Rams up 40-35. Klieber scored underneath to make it 40-37 with 3:39 left; then the Rams burned more than two minutes with a flurry of careful passing, until a Viking foul stopped the clock with 1:17 to go. Both teams missed shots in the final minute, then Merten hit a trey from the left corner with 5.9 seconds left to tie the score at 40-40.

In overtime, there were several lead changes, but Wielgus remained confident.

“An experienced team in a tight spot thinks, ‘Here we go, we’ll be OK,’ and our team [similarly] had faith,” said Wielgus. “I think a lot of things in life come down to faith and they had it – faith in themselves and faith in the fact that they could get it done.”

Less than a minute into overtime, Merten’s free throw gave East its first lead of the day (41-40), then with 2:23 to go Louca hit two free throws to put the hosts up 42-41. East senior point guard Mary Grace Kerns drove in for a layup to give the Vikings a 43-42 lead. Aspesi came right back with a drive for two points and a 44-43 Ram lead.

With 25 seconds to go, East had the ball but missed a shot underneath, and Mady Calhoun was fouled. Calhoun’s free throw with 13.9 seconds left gave the Rams a 45-43 lead. An East turnover was followed by another foul on Calhoun, and she connected again with 2.9 seconds to give Harriton a 46-43 lead.

The Rams held the Vikings scoreless for the last two minutes of overtime.

“It really came down to defense at the end, and we know we’re a great defensive team,” said Aspesi. “That’s what we work on, and we weren’t going to let [East] beat us on our home court.”

Aspesi had three steals in addition to her 19 points; the two Calhouns combined for 19 points; Mady Calhoun added four steals and nine rebounds and McFillin grabbed four rebounds.

Wielgus said, “Annie always has a great game, and we were delighted with Annie’s efforts. Lexi Calhoun is so steady, and she did a great job; Mady Calhoun did a great job; Alexa Louca did a great job guarding one of East’s better players; and I think it was a total team effort.

“It did come down to defense – I told the kids if it came down to defense, that we’d be OK. We weren’t as big as West Chester East, so we had to protect the paint a little bit more than we normally might. We were able to control the boards, and we were still able to score inside.”

Wielgus said, “Our players have a good chemistry among themselves; they’re eager to learn and a joy to coach. And I have an unbelievable coaching staff.”

Aspesi said, “The last Harriton basketball championship was 50 years ago [a league title in 1971], so we want to get another one.”

For the Vikings (10-8), it marked the end of the season, as well as the end of a high school basketball career for eight East seniors, including Klieber (21 points, seven rebounds), who next winter will be playing basketball for Neumann University, where she will be majoring in nursing.

Listrani said, “I’ve coached great players before, but this team, and this group of seniors [Lauren Klieber, Olivia McDonald, Megan Merten, Mary Grace Kerns, Kate Douglass, Alex Douglass, Madison Colston, Lilly Nowak] has really been special. They’re unselfish kids, they care about each other on and off the court, they’re high-character kids. I feel like the luckiest coach in America to not only coach them, but to spend so much time with them for the past four years. They’re going to do big things, on and off the court.”


NOTES: Klieber finished fourth on the West Chester East all-time scoring list with 1,181 career points, behind Brooke Queenan (Class of 2002 – 1,605 points); Nina Mazzarelli (Class of 2014, now a WC East assistant coach – 1,568 points); and Juliette Warren (Class of 2002 – 1,339 points). Klieber recently passed 2019 grad Marissa McDonald (now playing for University of Vernont), who is fifth on the list with 1,139 points.


Harriton 46, West Chester East 43

West Chester East        4       10     10     16     3       –        43

Harriton                         9       6       17     8       6       –        46

West Chester East (43): K. Douglass 1 0-0 3, A. Kerns 1 0-0 2, M.G. Kerns 1 2-4 4, Kushner 1 1-2 3, Klieber 8 4-4 21, McDonald 0 0-0 0, Merten 4 1-3 10, Totals 16 8-13 43.

Harriton (46): Louca 0 2-5 2, Smith 1 0-0 2, L. Calhoun 2 1-2 7, Aspesi 8 3-5 19, Sy. Kasmer 1 0-0 2, McFillin 2 0-2 4, M. Calhoun 3 2-4 10, Totals 17 8-18 46.

Three-point field goals: WCE – K. Douglas, Klieber, Merten. HAR – L. Calhoun 2, M. Calhoun 2.

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