Spring Grove girls' basketball team rolls past Shippensburg to clinch state playoff berth

  • The Spring Grove girls' basketball team downed Shippensburg on Tuesday night, 58-34.
  • The victory came in a District 3 Class 5-A first-round playoff contest.
  • With the win, Spring Grove clinched a PIAA state playoff berth.
  • Haley Wagman paced Spring Grove with 19 points, including five 3-pointers.

It’s sometimes easy to downplay the importance of non-league games early in the season.

Often times, teams are trying to find their footing and fine-tune their game. As a result, not much stock is put into the outcome because the league season hasn’t even started yet.

Haley Wagman, right, scored 19 points on Tuesday to lead the Spring Grove girls' basketball team to a 58-34 victory over Shippensburg. YORK DISPATCH FILE PHOTO

For the Spring Grove High School girls’ basketball team, however, an earlier victory at Shippensburg proved valuable for a few reasons when the Rockets collected a 58-34 triumph over the Greyhounds on Tuesday night in a District 3 Class 5-A first-round contest.

Every victory Spring Grove chalked up throughout the season ultimately led to the Rockets hosting a first-round district game Tuesday night — a benefit not lost on Rockets head coach Holly Strait.

“We played 10 times better this time around,” Strait said. “It helps we didn’t have an hour bus ride. And we had a lot more experience and practice throughout the season. We knew what to expect and that helped (the Rockets) come in focused.”

The win moves the No. 6 seed Rockets (16-7) into the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday, when they'll travel to No. 3 seed Twin Valley (23-2). The victory also qualified Spring Grove for the upcoming PIAA Class 5-A state playoffs.

Twin Valley dominated No. 14 seed Big Spring in its first-round game on Tuesday, 54-27. Shippensburg finished at 15-9.

Second-quarter run key: Already familiar with the Greyhounds after the 40-33 victory earlier in the season, the Rockets used a combination of smothering defense and a second-quarter run to create separation from their guests.

After Kara Newell gave the Greyhounds a 19-18 lead midway through the second quarter, the Rockets’ Ella Kale answered with a basket that saw Spring Grove retake the lead at 20-19.

Kale’s bucket kicked off a 7-1 run to close the first half, sending the Rockets into the locker room with a 27-20 edge. Much of that run was born from the Rockets' tight defense that forced a number of Greyhounds turnovers.

Wagman leads way with 19 points: Haley Wagman scored five of her game-high 19 points during the stretch, when Spring Grove knocked down 4 of 8 shots. Wagman would go on to hit five 3-pointers on the night, one of which came during the run, which helped the Rockets create all the separation they would need.

Not only did Spring Grove’s tough defense force the Greyhounds to give the ball back often, it also limited the number of looks Shippensburg would get, much less convert. The Greyhounds were held to a single field goal during the second quarter and only hit 6 of 16 attempts during the first half.

“The whole game we came out with the focus of ‘we’ve got to set the tone,’” Strait said. “We put pressure on them and we executed our shots. We played team ball and attacked.”

Erasing all doubt: Spring Grove then erased all doubt by knocking down its first five shots in opening a 37-27 lead and never looking back. The Rockets also held the Greyhounds to a 2-of-11 shooting performance in the third quarter.

For a brief moment to start the game, it looked like things weren’t going to go as smoothly as they did for the Rockets.

Mariah Martin hit the game’s first shot before the Greyhounds forced a turnover on the Rockets’ first possession. Shippensburg then followed that with a Tori Rumbaugh 3-pointer to race out to a 5-0 lead.

Spring Grove’s Brooklyn Naylor scored the first of her 11 points to kick off a 7-0 Rockets run that put the hosts ahead 7-5 with 5:58 to play in the opening quarter.

Martin wold go on to lead the Greyhounds with an 11-point effort.

“We got to take the momentum of winning into the next game,” Strait said. “Just doing what we do best and fine tuning it for Friday.”

Reach Elijah Armold at earmold@yorkdispatch.com.