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PAC Girls’ Basketball District 1 playoff preview

It has been a long time since every postseason basketball game had stakes this high.

That is reality this winter after the pandemic-shortened regular season made way to the single-elimination District 1 tournaments that will send champions only to the abbreviated PIAA Championships.

The Class 6A and 5A boys and girls tournaments got underway Saturday with first round games, setting the stage for what should be an exciting district postseason.

Pottsgrove and Perkiomen Valley were Day 1 casualties, the Falcons falling to Mount St. Joseph in 5A while Perk Valley lost a tight battle with Penn Wood in 6A.

District 1’s Class 6A and 5A girls tournaments continue on Wednesday with Class 6A winners advancing to the quarterfinal round, while Class 5A winners moving on to the semifinals already in reduced district fields. The District Class 4A girls tournament began Tuesday with two semifinal matchups.

Here is a look at the matchups involving Mercury-area teams:

Class 6A

No. 16 Penn Wood (7-4) at No. 1 Spring-Ford (18-0), 7 p.m.

Playoff History >> Penn Wood was the No. 2 seed in the Class 5A tournament in 2020 but was upset in the quarterfinals and fell a win short of states in playbacks. … Spring-Ford has reached – and lost in – the District 1 semifinals in three straight seasons. The Rams reached the then-4A final in 2013-14 and were the champion in 2012-13.

Players to Watch >> Penn Wood: LaShanda Smith, Jr., G; Racquel Curry, Sr., G; Ashley Cyrus, Sr., G.; Xenia Gillis, So., F … Spring-Ford: Lucy Olsen, Sr., G; Emily Tiffan, Sr., F; Abbey Boyer, Sr., G; Hailey Hudak, Sr., F; Anna Azzara, Fr., G.

On Penn Wood >> The Patriots blew out the Del Val League competition to repeat as league champion in the regular season but otherwise took its lumps in double-digit non-league losses to Abington (79-60 on Jan. 30), Upper Dublin (68-33) and Methacton (62-33). The No. 16 seeds advanced to the second round with a 63-60 win over No. 17 Perkiomen Valley. The Patriots came back from nine down in the second half to win thanks in large part to LaShanda Smith’s crucial plays down the stretch and 26 points.

On Spring-Ford >> As the No. 1 seed, the Rams have the opportunity to enjoy a home-court advantage greater than any time before. With the better seed hosting every district playoff game and the eventual District 1 champion hosting its PIAA semifinal, five home wins for Spring-Ford would result in a trip to Hershey to compete for a state championship. Senior guard Lucy Olsen, the Villanova recruit and two-time Mercury All-Area player of the year, averages 17.5 points per game and has been at her best in the team’s biggest games, scoring 28 in a 58-54 win over District 3 No. 1 Cumberland Valley and 22 in a 49-46 win over District 1 No. 3 Upper Dublin. Senior Emily Tiffan averages 12.4 ppg and is often the best defensive player on the floor while freshman guard Anna Azzara (9.3 ppg) has been a rookie revelation as a capable ball-handler and complementary scorer while senior Abbey Boyer is a consistent 3-point threat.

Matchup >> A close contest appears unlikely in this No. 1 vs. 16 matchup. Considering Spring-Ford defeated teams Penn Wood lost to by 30-or-more points, the Rams are too deep, too tested and too talented for the undermanned Patriots.

Methacton’s Nicole Timko, right, tries to drive past Spring-Ford’s Lucy Olsen

No. 9 Methacton (14-5) at No. 8 Abington (12-4)

Recent playoff history >> The Warriors qualified for the PIAA tournament for a second straight season a year ago as the No. 8 seed from District 1. … The Ghosts are on the way back up after falling in the first round of districts to Owen J. Roberts a year ago. Previously, Abington reached the PIAA tournament six straight years, including a District 1 title in 2016-17.

Players to Watch >> Methacton: Nicole Timko, Jr., G; Cassidy Kropp, So., G; Tori Bockrath, Jr., G; Mairi Smith, So., F; Alli Hazlett, Sr., F. … Abington: Khalis Whiting, Jr., G; Cire Worley, So., G; Jaida Helm, So.; Abril Bowser, So., G.

On Methacton >> After its 12-2 run through the PAC – its only losses were to undefeated No. 1 Spring-Ford – Methacton took on a daunting non-league schedule of seven games in eight days against mostly playoff qualifiers in preparation for the postseason. Junior guard Nicole Timko leads the way at 16.7 ppg alongside backcourt mate sophomore guard Cassidy Kropp (9.7 ppg) while 6-1 sophomore Mairi Smith (9.8 ppg) and 6-0 senior Alli Hazlett (6.4 ppg) form a formidable frontcourt.

On Abington >> 12-4 Abington’s only losses came against top 5 teams (twice to No. 2 Plymouth Whitemarsh; twice to No. 4 Upper Dublin). Junior guard Khalis Whiting (Temple commit) has elite ball skills, sophomore guard Cire Worley is a promising blend of size and athleticism and sophomore Jaidi Helm battles in the frontcourt.

Matchup >> Methacton and Abington met just eight days ago, a 75-66 Abington win on March 2. Worley caught fire and scored 29 while Bowser added 17. Timko drained six 3s for a career-high 32 points in the high-scoring matchup. With actual preparation time and higher stakes of the postseason, it’s hard to imagine as much of a shootout on Wednesday. The Ghosts scored in the 70s in their last three regular-season games, a trend the Warriors must halt if they want their season to continue.

Class 5A

No. 6 Phoenixville (10-5) vs. No. 3 West Chester East (9-6)

Phoenixville’s Aubrie Breisblatt

Recent playoff history >> The Phantoms missed the 5A playoffs a year ago and were a first-round exit a year prior. … West Chester East reached the D1 quarters a year ago and qualified for states as the No. 6 seed from the district.

Players to watch >> Phoenixville: Aubrie Breisblatt, Sr., G; Nailah Green, Sr., F. Juniors Dylan McAleer, G. … West Chester East: Lauren Klieber, Sr., G/F; Mary Grace Kerns, Sr., G; Olivia McDonald, Sr., G; Megan Merten, Sr., F.

On Phoenixville >> The Phantoms broke through this winter by winning the PAC Frontier Division with a 9-1 record. Seniors Aubrie Breisblatt and Nailah Green have been their driving force. Breisblatt’s 16.1 points per game is fifth-best in the PAC while Green is indispensible for her scoring (10.5 ppg) and rebounding. Dylan McAleer has been a capable third option (6.7 ppg), the junior in her first year at Phoenixville after transferring from Renaissance Academy.

On West Chester East >> At 9-6, the Vikings didn’t set the world on fire in the Ches-Mont National but had enough quality wins to earn the No. 3 seed in 5A. They feature four senior starters, including 1,000-point scorer and four-year starter Lauren Klieber. Senior guard Mary Grace Kerns sets the tempo for East and is a three-year starter.

Matchup >> It’s not a ideal scenario for entering the playoffs for either team, especially Phoenixville which has not played since Feb. 27 and hasn’t had a competitive game since Feb. 17. East hasn’t played since March 1. Both did close the regular season with back-to-back wins though. The time is now for two senior-driven teams. Quickly dismissing any layoff rust will go far in earning a trip to the semifinals.

Class 4A

No. 3 Pope John Paul II (10-6) vs. No. 2 New Hope Solebury (15-3)

Pope John Paul II’s Amelia Kennedy shoots for a basket over the reach of Pottsgrove’s Justine Fretz. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Recent playoff history >> PJP was in 5A a year ago and qualified to the district tournament but lost in the first round. In 2018-19, the Panthers qualified for states as the sixth-place team from District 1. Meanwhile New Hope moved up to 4A from 3A this winter. The Lions wer 3A finalists the past two seasons, losing to AACA power St. Basil both seasons.

Players to watch >> Kallan Bustynowicz, Sr., F; Tess Crossan, Jr., G; Amelia Kennedy, Jr., G; Kayla Ciuba, Sr., F. … New Hope Solebury: Rachel Saxton, Sr.; Juliana Covino, Sr.; Kate Dougherty, Sr., Reagan Chrencik, So.

On Pope John Paul II >> The Golden Panthers finished second in the PAC Frontier (8-2) and made their name on the defensive side, holding opponents to a PAC-best 28.2 points per game. A 10-6 record may not wow, but PJP has shown the ability to defend and hang with any team in District 1, playing within five points of Methacton (6A No. 9), Spring-Ford (6A No. 1) and Plymouth Whitemarsh (6A No. 2). Junior Amelia Kennedy scores 11.5 ppg, followed by junior guard Tess Crossan (8.8). Senior forward Kallan Bustynowicz (7.9) brings an experienced, versatile presence while Kayla Ciuba (5.9), Haley Jackson and Lainey Owens (4.6) round out the rotation.

On New Hope-Solebury >> New Hope won the Suburban One League Freedom Division championship in its first year in the league. Muhlenberg commit Rachel Saxton, a senior point guard, scores 15.6 points per game, followed by sophomore Reagan Chrencik’s 13.6 ppg.

Matchup >> While New Hope was able to run away from most opponents in the bottom-heavy SOL Freedom, it’s hard to see a scenario where PJP won’t play extremely close. If the Golden Panthers can get their offense on track to match their defense, they have a strong shot of reaching the District 1 4A championship.

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