EAST ROCKHILL >> As far as season openers go, Pennridge and Quakertown provided plenty of entertainment on Friday night.
The realities of a season contested under COVID-19 were prevalent, with the January start date and players from both teams masked up on the court, but the teams were on the floor and wanted to make the most of it. Pennridge may not have a ton of experience back, but the Rams do have plenty of energy.
An energetic and balanced effort came together as the Rams topped the visiting Panthers 61-51.
“It felt great to finally be out there,” Pennridge sophomore Katie Yoder said. “We’ve been working really hard since last March so it felt nice to be able to play.”
Pennridge, which made the district playoffs last year, lost five starters but due to a rash of injuries during the season, made Yoder their sixth starter. Flanked by a few reserve players stepping into bigger roles this winter, Yoder set the tone for the Rams with 12 points, 16 rebounds, four assists, four blocks and three steals.
She wasn’t her team’s leading scorer however and Pennridge did a solid job of rotating the go-to option through the contest. Turnovers plagued the team early and some defensive breakdowns in the second half meant Quakertown wasn’t going anywhere, so being able to avoid prolonged offensive droughts was a major plus.
“We lost a lot of players last year but this is a great group of kids and they came out and battled,” Pennridge coach Mike Elton said. “Quakertown definitely tried to capitalize on that, they went after some of the younger kids. From an offensive standpoint, we really got good contributions from a couple kids we have in the rotation.”
Early on, it was Ryan Hodder’s two 3-point shots that carried Pennridge before sophomore point guard Grace Roscia played the role of steady hand into the second quarter, helping her team out to a 21-13 lead. Ava Unzicker, who led the Rams with 15 points, used a couple of late driving scores to carry the hosts to a 31-27 halftime edge.
While it was the first game of the season, the Rams were giving the ball up far too often and any good they were producing offensively was going right back the other way. After falling behind by eight, the Panthers used a 7-2 spurt fueled by Rams turnovers to get right back into it.
Pennridge had committed 14 turnovers by the half.
“Scoring is scoring, we have to tend to have gaps where we don’t score it well but we were pretty balanced there, the killer was the turnovers,” Elton said. “That was the big focus for the second half and we only had four after halftime.”
After not attempting a free throw in the first half, the Panthers made it an effort to get to the line in the third quarter. A disorganized Rams defense was eager to help as Quakertown’s movement and screening led to a lot of broken defensive possessions and either netted a foul or an open look for the Panthers.
Carolyn Sipprell, who led all scorers with 17 points, was very aggressive attacking the rim and some excellent ball movement by Quakertown led to a Kayla Horning three that tied things up 39-39 with 3:54 left in the third.
Calling a timeout, Elton stressed communication on the defensive end and following an exchange of baskets, Unzicker gave her team the lead back for good on a pair of foul shots. That kicked off a 7-0 run by Unzicker and Yoder that bridged into the fourth quarter and gave Pennridge some breathing room.
“Communication is our big thing this year,” Yoder said. “We’re all super-positive and we have so much energy at practice, it’s allowed us to really work well together.
“That showed us a lot about ourselves and how far we’ve come since the end of last season. We think we can be a team people don’t want to play.”
Unzicker, a junior guard who was the first sub off the bench, had seven of her 15 in the final quarter and added seven rebounds in the game. Freshman Anna Croyle, who had a nice debut, scored five of her eight points in the final stanza including a 3-pointer off a Unzicker assist that made it a 53-45 game.
Kiersten Moyer, the only senior on the Rams roster, finished with two points but played key minutes defensively against a taller Quakertown frontcourt while Emma Pyne battled defensively and on the glass as well.
“What I noticed the whole game was the tempo,” Elton said. “At times, they looked like a bunch of young kids and at others, a pretty mature team so we were trying to find the right balance. We got up, then didn’t quite slow it down like they should have.”
Yoder chalked the win up to her team’s ability to stay together even during the recent shutdown. When they couldn’t be in the gym, players either got together at an outdoor court or worked out on their own and kept the positive thought that they were going to get back on the court and play this winter.
“I’m really proud of what they did, especially losing that many players from last year,” Elton said. “It’s a great first game, we got an idea of what we can do.”
PENNRIDGE 61, QUAKERTOWN 51
PENNRIDGE 16 15 12 18 – 61
QUAKERTOWN 13 14 14 10 – 51
Pennridge: Grace Roscia 5 2-6 14, Katie Yoder 4 3-5 12, Kiersten Moyer 0 2-4 2, Emma Pyne 1 0-0 2, Ryan Hodder 2 2-2 8, Ava Unzicker 5 4-7 15, Anna Croyle 2 3-4 8. Totals: 19 14-24 61.
Quakertown: Carolyn Sipprell 5 5-8 17, Katharine Catalano 4 0-0 11, Kayla Horning 4 0-0 9, Abigial McClaskey 1 0-0 2, Fallon Grandinetti 2 1-2 7, Laney Mitchell 1 1-2 3, Maureen Healy 0 2-2 2. Totals: 17 8-14 51.
3-pointers: P – Hodder 2, Roscia 2, Yoder, Croyle, Unzicker; Q – Catanaro 3, Sipprell 2, Grandinetti 2.