CHAMBERSBURG >> No matter what, it always turns back to defense for Plymouth Whitemarsh.
It’s true in practice, where coach Dan Dougherty has a rule that any foul awards the other team two points and the ball. It’s true in the regular season, where the Colonials use defense to fuel their offense and it’s especially true in the postseason where moving on or going home is often measured in how many stops one team can get.
Tuesday night, PW wasn’t at its best offensively but that didn’t cause too much of a concern.
Defense had travelled for the Colonials and they let it loose in a 53-27 win over Baldwin in the second round of the PIAA 6A girls’ basketball tournament held at Chambersburg Area High School.
“When we watched film on this team, their offense looked very similar to ours so I said to them ‘you’re trying to defend yourselves, and we do that every day in practice,’” Dougherty said. “The girls felt comfortable with that and the other thing, it’s hard to practice that pace. They were good with the pace in halfcourt defense but it’s hard to handle full-court and I think it got to them.”
PW reached the quarterfinals for the second time in the past four season but only the third time in program history (2017, 1985). Junior forward Anna McTamney came a year after the last quarterfinal run but prior to Tuesday night, had been the only PW player with game experience in the second round.
She led PW in scoring for the second straight game, although this time she shared game-high honors with sophomore Kaitlyn Flanagan as each posted 12 points. McTamney also added 11 rebounds with a block and two steals as part of that PW defensive effort.
“It feels great,” McTamney said. “My freshman year, we were expected to get really far and that team was me and four seniors. For us getting this far, it’s a great accomplishment considering we’re so young. We have two juniors, two sophomores and one freshmen starting so it’s pretty amazing.”
Flanagan’s first taste of life past the first round also came with a nice, long bus ride. A true East-West matchup pitted the District 1 third-place finisher against Baldwin, the WPIAL’s fifth-place squad out of Pittsburgh and meant the Colonials had a roughly two-and-a-half hour trip each way.
“Those long bus rides build up the anticipation which worked for us, at least tonight,” Flanagan said. “It built up the hype so we were getting ready the whole time instead of thinking about it and getting nervous.”
Once they got on the floor, the Colonials were in attack mode. Plymouth Whitemarsh never trailed and despite a sloppy start offensively that featured five first quarter turnovers, Baldwin didn’t have much of an answer for the Colonials’ quickness.
An ongoing series of drives to the rim got PW into the bonus before the first quarter ended and Flanagan was a total nightmare for the Fighting Highlanders defensively. The sophomore and her quick burst of a first step left defenders reaching in vain and put her at the line for 10 free throws in the first half.
“When you have that first step and you can get by them, they usually have to foul you or it’s going to be a layup,” Flanagan said. “That helped us keep the aggression and the attack mode on.”
It was a physical game, with Baldwin getting hit for 10-plus fouls in the first half but PW was able to contest shots without returning the favor for the most part. PW had seven blocks as a team plus an even high number of shots they altered just by being tough around the rim.
Jordyn Thomas, who opened the game with a three for PW, did get in foul trouble early but Deja Evans came to the Colonials rescue. The forward played much of the first quarter and all but a few ticks of the second quarter and for the game, tallied three points and an important nine rebounds.
“Deja is one of the most dominant JV players we’ve ever had, she was averaging 15 and 12 in JV so she earned this opportunity,” Dougherty said. “She’s making the most of it. Erin Daley’s out, Lainey Allen is out so that kid is making the most of her opportunity. She’s quiet as a mouse but plays like a lion, she is fearless.”
A 16-4 second quarter in PW’s favor sent the Colonials to the half ahead 29-12 and they were on their way to another lopsided quarter in the third until Baldwin’s Emiley Hilgartner hit two late 3-pointers. Things did get a little chippy in the third, with McTamney being whistled for a technical after tangling for a loose ball with a Baldwin player.
The junior tri-captain took ownership of it but it also impacted her play as McTamney scored a basket, had five rebounds and a steal all after she was subbed back in.
While they were happy to be moving in, McTamney and Flanagan echoed their coach in saying they didn’t play all that well on the offensive end.
“Our defense is what kept us in the game and let us build that lead in the second half,” Flanagan said. “Defensively, we had to pick it up on that end.”
Gabby Cooper, despite an off night shooting, chipped in seven points, five rebounds and three steals in her usual stout defense. Freshman Abby Sharpe likewise shook off some misses for nine points and three assists.
Flanagan, who had a three-point play in the third, had three blocks, four boards and three helpers while Thomas ended with eight points and five boards.
PW will likely have another long trip on Friday as the Colonials will face WPIAL runner-up Bethel Park, a 47-40 winner over Upper Dublin, in the quarterfinals. Flanagan and McTamney were eager to get back to work and neither could hide a smile when reminded they’re part of a select group of teams still able to say they get to keep practicing this season.
“The state tournament, it’s all about who you get, how you play that night and handling the emotions,” Dougherty said. “It’s very exciting and we’re just trying to make the most of the opportunity.”
PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 13 16 13 11 – 53
BALDWIN 8 4 12 3 – 27
PW: Kaitlyn Flanagan 2 8-11 12, Abby Sharpe 4 1-2 9, Gabby Cooper 3 1-2 7, Anna McTamney 4 4-4 12, Jordyn Thomas 3 1-2 8, Deja Evans 1 1-2 3, Fiona Gooneratne 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 16-23 53
B: Luccanelli 3 2-8 8, Dryburgh 1 0-0 2, Radomsky 3 1-2 7, Hilgartner 4 0-0 10. Totals: 11 3-12 27
3-pointers; PW – Thomas; B – Hilgartner 2