NORTHAMPTON >> By Thursday and even more so Friday, Jim Romano knew his team needed to go out and play a game.
With a full week gone by since the last time the Jenkintown girls basketball team had been on the floor, there may have been questions about how sharp the Drakes would be in their state playoff opener. It took about 10 seconds to answer those questions.
Jenkintown came out firing as it blitzed District 3 fifth place finisher Halifax 62-33 and improved to 28-0 this season in the first round of the PIAA A girls tournament Saturday afternoon at Council Rock South.
“Our shooting really impressed me,” Romano said. “Having a whole week off after winning districts, you could think they might be a little stale but we didn’t back down. We ran our practices like we always do but we needed a game today.”
Jenkintown has been one of the state’s best teams in the A classification since the PIAA moved to six classes four years ago and their wealth of offense and sound defense was too much for Halifax. Carly Mulvaney scored 10 seconds in, drawing a foul for good measure and the Drakes went on to score the first 14 points of the game.
Junior Molly Walsh called the opening and-one just the play the team to get going again and she didn’t disappoint either, hitting all four 3-pointers she took in the opening quarter as the Drakes ran out to a 24-4 lead. Walsh said the Drakes prepared for Halifax just like any other opponent and the motivation for her and the other starters was to get the bench players into the game.
“We wanted them in as fast as we could get them in because the more experience they have will help us in the future,” Walsh said. “What made us pull away was how strong we came out. We hit so many threes and so many early shots, it dug them into a hole.”
Just two years ago, Walsh was one of those young players on the bench when the Drakes won a state title so she knows full well the value of playing minutes in March. The Drakes didn’t sustain their scorching opening clip but save for a few minutes in the middle of the second quarter, they didn’t go cold either.
Romano wasn’t surprised at the starters’ motivation to get themselves out of the game in the second half. They’re a competitive group but they also want their teammates who haven’t played as much to enjoy the moment too.
Walsh led the team with 17, getting an and-one of her own in the fourth to finish things for the starters while Mulvaney tallied 15 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.
“We’ve been able to stay calm in every game, we never play down to anybody’s level but we’ve also gone into two double-overtime games so what really motivates us is having that undefeated record,” Walsh said. “We’ve all been here before, we feel like we want it more than anybody else. We’re on the road to Hershey but we know it takes piece by piece to get there.”
Jenkintown will face District 4 runner-up Millville in the second round on Wednesday.
IMPACT PLAYER >> Cady Westkaemper’s scoring line doesn’t often stick out in the Drakes’ book.
That’s mostly because the junior guard doesn’t usually look to score and she had four other starters who are pretty good at putting the ball through the basket. However, Westkaemper is just as important to what Jenkintown is all about for what she does contribute on a consistent basis.
“Defensively, we put her on the other team’s best offensive guard,” Romano said. “Really, what has surprised me this year is her defensive and offensive rebounds. For her to get out there and get those kind of rebounds, it’s really unbelievable.”
Walsh said Westkaemper’s had the biggest impact of anyone this season. A first-year starter, the junior is the shortest of the Drakes’ starting five but she is tenacious on the glass and always locked in on her job defensively.
“Sometimes it’s a little intimidating playing the best player on the other team but it’s nice to know you can contribute in other ways,” Westkaemper said. “It’s not all about scoring, there are other important parts to the game. My go-to is defense and knowing it’s appreciated is nice but it’s also what I’m comfortable with.”
The 5-foot-4 guard is allowed to shoot and Walsh joked that the other starters are always pushing her to take hers when she gets the ball but Westkaemper’s nature is to pass first. Moving into the starting group was an adjustment this year, especially after coming in as a sub last year and getting a feel for the game before she stepped on the court.
Westkaemper trusts her teammates to do the job on offense, so she’s all about doing hers on the other end of the floor.
“Just like with any sport I play, I try to use my speed,” Westkaemper, who also plays field hockey and plans to give track a try this spring, said. “Trying to stay in front of the other player is something I’ve pushed myself in practice and games to make sure I’m doing it without fouling. I get in foul trouble sometimes, so that’s been the hardest part.”
JENKINTOWN 62, HALIFAX 33
JENKINTOWN 24 15 14 9 — 62
HALIFAX 4 8 9 12 — 33
Jenkintown: Katie McGrath 4 2-4 12, Lauren Brockwell 3 0-0 9, Molly Walsh 6 1-1 17, Carly Mulvaney 6 3-3 15, Lily O’Brien 0 1-2 1, Molly Stephenson 3 0-0 6, Bryn McCall 1 0-0 2. Totals: 23 7-10 62
Halifax: Schumbler 0 2-3 2, Wells 5 1-1 12, S Manion 2 0-0 4, Paul 5 0-0 10, K Manion 1 0-0 2, Hoffman 0 2-2 2. Totals: 13 5-6 29
3-pointers: J – Walsh 4, Brockwell 3, McGrath 2; H – Wells.