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Villa Maria dunks Henderson; advances to district finals

Lower Merion >> Villa Maria Academy got off to a red-hot start in its 56-33 win against West Chester Henderson in the PIAA District 1 5A girls basketball semifinal Tuesday at Harriton High School.

“We came out with fire under our belt today,” said Villa Maria senior Abby Walheim, with a smile. “We lost to Henderson in the district final last year. Defense is always the key to our winning games, so we knew we had to get off to a good start and play good defense.”

Villa Maria’s defense passed Tuesday’s test with flying colors, as the Hurricanes got off to a 14-2 lead by the end of the first quarter. Villa Maria gradually increased that lead, outscoring the Warriors in every quarter.

West Chester Henderson head coach Greta Neff was impressed with the Hurricanes’ force.

“We ran into a well-oiled machine out there,” said Neff. “Villa Maria is super-experienced and they played a fantastic game today. We wanted to stop their penetration and keep them off the boards – [but] they’re so long and athletic, it’s tough to do that.”

With the victory, Villa Maria (23-4), the No. 2 seed in the tourney, advances to the championship final against No. 12 seed Mount St. Joseph March 2 at noon at Temple University. Mount knocked off top seed Springfield, 52-42, in its District 1 5A semifinal Tuesday.

Henderson (19-7), the No. 3 seed, will face Springfield in the third-place game March 1.
Neff said, “We got outworked on the boards today, and we’ve got to do a little job of playing vertically instead of going side-to-side. But I give all the credit in the world to Villa Maria – they took us out of our game plan from square one. They definitely played with purpose tonight.”

In the first period, Villa Maria limited Henderson to a lone field goal underneath by 6-foot senior Grace Ferguson. Meanwhile, Walheim (who finished with 17 points) and Maddy Ryan provided most of the Hurricanes’ first-quarter scoring. Midway through the first quarter, Villa’s Myla Warley stole the ball and fed it to Walheim for a layup and a quick 10-2 lead.

Villa Maria’s defense kept the heat on early in the second quarter. A Henderson turnover led to a Julia Samar layup, and a minute later, Walheim’s steal and subsequent drive to the basket gave the Hurricanes a 20-4 lead.

“Our defense was really good today, and that’s what we have to do to win a championship,” said Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney. “All five kids on the floor were on one page – they moved together, they moved with every pass. Our defense is kind of what we’re know for, and it creates our offense.”

Henderson’s offense began to heat up a little in the second period, getting eight points in the quarter (including two treys) from senior captain Michaella Meredith. Ferguson. who blocked five shots Tuesday and grabbed seven rebounds, also made her presence felt. Despite Henderson’s improved offense, the Warriors went into the locker room at halftime trailing 25-12.

Villa Maria went on a 12-4 run to start the third quarter, as the sizable trio of Lauder (6-foot-1), Walheim (5-foot-11) and junior Jackie Ford (5-foot-7) each penetrated for multiple field goals underneath. By the end of the third quarter, Walheim and Lauder had combined for 23 points.

“We knew it was going to be tough to get rebounds today against Grace Ferguson, who’s tall and really good,” said Walheim. “But we did work on our new 3-2 defense, which is really effective when we’re all active and talking with each other. And our help side defense on Grace Ferguson was really important. We definitely play our best when all five of us are playing together and there’s excitement on our bench to support us.”

McCartney said, “We rebounded the ball well today, we shot the ball fairly well, we had some good looks in transition. I thought Maddy Ryan played really well today – Grace Ferguson is a really nice player and a big kid, tough to guard, and Maddy played her all day and did a great job. I thought Jackie Ford was really solid coming off the bench – she just hustles, she’s around the ball all the time, she’s just exactly where she needs to be on every single play.”

Villa Maria Academy 56, West Chester Henderson 33
W.C. Henderson          2 10  8 13 – 33
Villa Maria Academy 14 11 12 19 – 56
West Chester Henderson (33): Thompson 1 2-2 4, DePrisco 0 2-4 2, Rivituso 1 0-0 2, Nanni 0 0-0 0, Meredith 3 0-0 8, Manion 3 1-2 8, Campbell 0 0-0 0, Ferguson 4 1-1 9, Shea 0 0-0 0, Totals 12 6-9 33.
Villa Maria Academy (56): Samar 1 0-2 2, Ryan 4 3-5 11, Warley 0 0-0 0, Walheim 7 2-2 17, Lauder 4 4-7 12, Kirby 0 0-0 0, Tague 1 0-0 3, Trebelev 0 0-0 0, Ford 3 0-0 6, Murphy 0 0-0 0, Lange 1 0-0 2, Chieffalo 1 0-0 3, Totals 22 9-16 56.
Three-point field goals: West Chester Henderson – Meredith 2, Manion; Villa Maria – Walheim, Tague, Chieffalo.

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