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Preuhs, Timmes help Sun Valley win fourth straight

ASTON — The shots weren’t falling for Jaina Preuhs and Sun Valley in the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon.

Hoping to celebrate senior day with their ninth win of the season, the Vanguards were in a rut for most of the second half. They had allowed a double-digit halftime lead against nearby Christian Academy (Brookhaven) to dissipate. The Vanguards’ offense had gone the way of the outside temperatures: cold and miserable.

However, all the Vanguards needed was one timely basket. Preuhs stepped up and delivered..

The Vanguards trailed by three points with 30 seconds to go when senior guard Alicia Whitfield came up with a steal near midcourt and passed to Preuhs, a junior, who had already made three 3-pointers. Her fourth triple evened the score and forced overtime.

In the extra period, the Vanguards’ Emily Kauffeld made a steal under the basket and threw a strong pass to Whitfield in transition. Whitfield then dished off to forward Melana Timmes, who streaked in for a lay up to put the Vanguards in front for good.

Sun Valley held on for a 37-33 victory over TCA. It has won four consecutive games to pull within one game of the .500 mark.

“I knew we needed a 3. I saw someone open, but I was like, I better shoot this,” Preuhs said of her clutch trey in the fourth quarter. “It just happened to go in, I guess. It felt pretty good.”

In the waning seconds of regulation, the Crusaders had a decent look at the basket, but couldn’t get anything to fall. Sun Valley pulled down a rebound with 1.8 seconds left and coach Tony Zambino immediately called for a timeout. But when the Vanguards inbounded on their side of the floor, they couldn’t get a shot off in time.

The only basket in OT came from Timmes, who walked with a huge ice pack wrapped around her knee after the game. She battled inside the paint all day with TCA big Amber Bullard, a 6-1 junior who recorded game highs in points (19), rebounds (14) and blocked shots (three).

“We knew we definitely had to guard No. 5 (Bullard),” Timmes said. “She is tall and very strong.”

And the Vanguards had no answer for her in the first three quarters. Bullard was limited to four points in the fourth quarter due in large part to Sun Valley’s stifling full-court press, which contributed to 31 Christian Academy turnovers on the day.

“We had to put pressure on their guards and see if we could get a quick turnover,” Preuhs said.

The press led to Whitfield’s steal and Preuhs’ game-tying 3 in the final seconds of regulation.

“You can tell it makes a big difference when we press,” coach Tony Zambino said. “Sometimes (his team) has to be told when to play defense. We struggle in zones, there’s a lot of standing around. But when we press, we can get turnovers. …

“We are right there, we are battling. A lot of improvement from last year. It got close in the second half after we were up at halftime (22-11). We have to do better holding leads. But the kids fought today and came out with a nice win.”

The Crusaders were missing starting guard Lea Sarekya and had trouble moving up court off Sun Valley’s press.

“We only have seven players on the team and one is a starting guard. Without her, we had a lot of people in spots where they normally wouldn’t be,” TCA coach Jason Wilt said. “It made it a little tougher against the press, but in all we had no business winning this game today. We gave ourselves a chance and I am super pleased with their effort.”

Wilt has seen plenty of highs and lows as coach of the Class A program. Just three years ago, with 1,000-point scorer Grace Gormley leading the way, the Crusaders won 17 games and qualified for the PIAA tournament. Then the Crusaders managed to win a combined six games in 2019-20 and during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. This winter the Crusaders have returned to form, winning nine games. Wilt believes his team can take No. 2 seed in the four-team regional tournament that also includes District 12’s Sankofa Academu. Faith Christian, the top seed, is clearly the team to beat in Class A.

“We’re relevant again, which is nice to see,” Wilt said. “We’re in a good spot, from being a bad team the last couple of years. And really didn’t get anyone new on the team except that Amber has really developed.”

The Vanguards know what it’s like playing with a skeleton crew. That was the case last year for Zambino’s gang, who played a full season with only five or six players at times. The 2022 Vanguards are whole – although they miss guard Rory Tiedeman, who has been injured all season. Whitfield, a dynamic combo guard, came back this year after sitting out last season due to COVID-19 concerns.

“You can tell that we missed her,” Zambino said of Whitfield. “Her defense was great and she came up with big steals for us today.”

And now, with their 9-10 record, the Vanguards are on the precipice of a district tournament berth in Class 5A. They came into the weekend holding down the 12th and final spot. But clinching a playoff berth is far from guarantee. Left on the docket for the Vanguards are Class 6A Ches-Mont League rivals Unionville (9-9) and Rustin (16-4)

“We’ve been trying to get wins for the playoffs and we got a big one today,” Preuhs said. “We’ve struggled before to get wins, but hopefully we can get a couple more and go to the playoffs. We want to keep going for it.”

Preuhs managed 14 points to go with a game-high seven steals. Whitfield finished with nine points and six steals, while Kauffeld added six points, three assists and two steals. Timmes, who bruised her knee in the first quarter but kept playing, had five points, two blocks and four rebounds.

“Now we’re hungry for it,” Timmes added. “We want to keep our streak going.”

In other nonleague action:

Academy Park 36, Harry S Truman 21 >> A 12-2 spurt in the second quarter put the Knights in control.

The Kinlaw kids produced in a big way for AP. Jada scored a game-high 17 points and Alaysia added 13.

Springfield 37, Villa Maria 28 >> Kaitlyn Kearney went for a game-high 19 points as the Cougars (14-5) regained the No. 1 spot in the District 1 Class 5A power rankings.

Anabel Kreydt posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, while point guard Mia Valerio played a solid floor game for the Cougars.

Marple Newtown 71, Pottstown 32 >> The Tigers erupted for a season high in points and snapped a three-game losing streak on senior day.

Senior Jenna Coary netted a career-high 20 points to lead the Marple victory. Seniors Haley Levy and Nikki Mostardi scored 13 and 10 points, respectively. Jess Griess chipped in with nine points for the Tigers, who led 42-16 at halftime.

Garnet Valley 64, St. Georges 33 >> The Jaguars had 10 players reach the scoring column and won their sixth consecutive game.

Emily Olsen led the Jags with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. Ava Possenti recorded 16 points, four assists and a steal. Haylie Adamski produced eight points, four rebounds and two steals.

In the Central League:

Harriton 43, Radnor 42 >> The Rams rallied from a six-point halftime deficit and took the lead late in the fourth quarter. Annie Aspesi poured in a game-high 19 points.

Harriton has won six straight Central League contests to pull into second place.

Ellie Davis powered Radnor with 12 points, while Mary Sareen finished with 11 points.

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