WESTTOWN >> West Chester Rustin’s 51-48 loss to No. 23 seed Pennridge Friday in the opening round of the PIAA District 1 6A girls’ basketball tournament was a bitter pill for the hosts to swallow, but after the game, Golden Knights head coach Jim Powers talked about how far his squad had come this season.
“This team worked hard this season – we didn’t have any real size, so they really worked hard, really grinded,” said Powers. “They did the best they could with what they had, and I couldn’t be more proud of them, qualifying for Districts after jumping up to 6A this season. It was a positive season – they might not know it now, but when they sit back and think about it, they’ll realize they had a good year. It was a fun group to coach.”
West Chester Rustin finished the season with a 17-8 record, and were champions of the ChesMont American Division with a 9-1 league mark.
“They just worked hard, they stayed together; there were some tough times this season, and they got over the hump,” said Powers. “They had a tough loss on Wednesday night [to Downingtown East in the ChesMont championship final], and to turn around and go back out again two nights later, maybe that was a little drain on them late in tonight’s game, when we didn’t get some rebounds.”
Rustin, the 10th seed in the 6A bracket, rolled to a 17-6 lead in the first quarter against Pennridge (10-13), as junior Grace Plona and senior Becca Magrone each nailed treys from the corner. The Rams were cold from the floor in the opening quarter, and, for the Golden Knights, Plona finished the period with seven points.
“I’ll tell you, Rustin played their butts off tonight,” said Pennridge head coach Mike Elton. “We were looking to shut down No. 23 [senior Dakiya Daniels] and No. 21 [Magrone].”
Early in the second quarter, the Golden Knights added to their lead, and when Rustin senior Olivia Gatto dropped in a layup, the hosts had a 21-6 lead.
But in a sudden reversal of form, the Rams went on an 18-2 run to take their first lead of the night, 24-23, just before halftime. Ram junior Sophie Cweiber scored eight points in the second quarter, coming off the bench.
“We stopped making shots,” said Powers. “And you can’t turn the ball over 12 times in the first half like we did and expect to win – and a lot of those were walks, or throwing it right to Pennridge. And we got a little lazy on defense, had some lapses and didn’t get back quick enough. They crawled back into it, and it was a fight from there.”
Magrone and Plona (who finished the night with 22 points) each hit treys to give the Golden Knights a 31-29 lead in the third quarter, but Rustin scored only two points the rest of the period. Meanwhile, a couple of travelling violations hurt Rustin, and Pennridge held a 37-33 lead by the end of the third period.
Magrone started the fourth quarter with her third trey of the night, cutting Pennridge’s lead to 37-36, but the Rams held the lead the rest of the evening. The Golden Knights trailed 46-40 with 1:45 left, but began a spirited comeback in the final two minutes. Plona sank a free throw, then following a loose ball recovered by the Golden Knights, Daniels drive in for a basket to make it 46-43 with 1:25 left.
The Rams’ Ashley Gordon was fouled, and made both end of a one-and-one to make it 48-43 with 1:18 left.
Plona hit a trey (her third of the night) from the top of the key to cut the Pennridge lead to 48-46 with 54 seconds left. The Golden Knights put on a full-court press, which triggered a Pennridge travelling violation, but Rustin missed a one-and-one to give the ball back to the Rams.
Gordon was fouled again, this time making the front end of a one-and-one to make it 49-46 with 41.2 seconds left.
Plona then scored on a putback with 25 seconds left, and the Pennridge lead was cut to 49-48.
Seven seconds later, Pennridge senior Emilee Cramer was fouled, and made both ends of a one-and-one to bring the score to 51-48. A couple of three-point attempts by Rustin in the closing seconds missed the mark, and the Golden Knights’ season was over.
The Rams, who advance to play No. 7 seed Council Rock North in the second round of the District 1 6A tourney, got balanced scoring, with 13 points from senior Sam Murreda, 12 points from Cweiber and 10 points from Cramer, who is headed to Washington College (Md.).
“We’ve been in games like this all year, we’ve been coming from behind all year, in Suburban One,” said Elton. “For us it’s just a matter of digging deep, putting pressure on the ball. This was a team win, and I’m proud of all my girls.”
Pennridge 51, West Chester Rustin 48
Pennridge 6 18 13 14 – 51
W.C. Rustin 17 6 10 15 – 48
Pennridge (51): Mart 2 0-0 5, Muredda 4 4-6 13, Cweiber 4 1-2 12, Kreider 0 0-0 0, McGurl 0 0-0 0, Kainey 1 0-0 2, Loughery 0 1-2 1, Gordon 2 3-4 8, Cramer 4 2-2 10, Totals 17 11-16 51.
WC Rustin (48): Plona 8 3-3 22, Gatto 2 0-0 4, Magrone 3 2-2 11, Daniels 4 1-1 9, Costin 0 2-2 2, Totals 17 8-8 48.
Three-point field goals: Pennridge – Mart, Muredda, Cweiber 3, Gordon; WC Rustin – Plona 3, Magrone 3