Delone Catholic girls fall short vs. unbeaten Villa Maria in PIAA 4-A basketball semifinal
EBENSBURG — The Delone Catholic girls' basketball team knew it would be in for a big challenge on Tuesday night in a PIAA Class 4-A semifinal against Villa Maria.
Facing an undefeated team with a ton of talent and experience, the Squirettes needed their "A" game if they wanted to advance to the state final for the second time in three years.
Watching opposing players on film, however, is different than actually being on the court against them. Especially if that court is not one of the bigger ones around.
A 9-0 run midway through the first quarter gave the District 10 champs a leg up at Central Cambria High School. The District 3 champion Squirettes drew as close as two points early in the third quarter, but never could find a way to get over the hump and the Victors pulled away for a 47-39 triumph.
Villa Maria (20-0) advances to the state final at noon Saturday at the Giant Center.
The Squirettes' marvelous season, which included a jump up to the 4-A class, ended at 20-2.
"I think that the size of the court hurt us," Delone coach Gerry Eckenrode said. "They're long ... 5-11, 6-foot, and the court was on the smaller side. I think if we played at Red Lion or Altoona or a college-sized court it would have been different."
Squirettes struggled to score: One of the York-Adams League's top scoring teams, the Squirettes found space and timing to be an issue all night.
The Victors were aggressively in the face of every Delone player who possessed the ball.
Teams usually employ zone defenses to keep teams out of the paint, but the Victors were able to both clog the middle while also guarding the perimeter.
"We didn't attack the gaps as well as we probably could have," Eckenrode said. "And they're big and caused some problems."
Eckenrode's team was also unable to take full advantage of the chances they got. After pulling within two points, there were opportunities to pull even or take the lead, but missed shots and turnovers prevented that.
Waid hurts Delone: The Victors gained separation when point guard Ava Waid (team-high 10 points) was able to score on a pair of layins.
When Waid wasn't scoring she was finding teammates, such as Jayden McBride, who scored four of her nine points in the third stanza.
"She's a good player," Eckenrode said of Waid. "She hurt us a couple times there with made shots and passes to her teammates."
The lack of time and space for Delone to set up things offensively was a challenge. Despite their issues, however, the Squirettes were able to keep things close because their own defense did a nice job against a Villa Maria side that averages 53 points per game.
"We changed our offense up," Eckenrode said. "And that seemed to work to get us some shots."
Abigail Vingsen, Makenna Mummert (13 points) and Giana Hoddinott (16 points) all hit 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the first long-distance hoops since Hoddinott hit one in the first period.
"I guess the question, or maybe regret, is not doing it earlier," Eckenrode said.
Squirettes kept fighting: The Squirettes were able to pull within five points early in the fourth quarter, but the Victors responded with a 6-0 run to push the advantage to 11. Back-to-back 3-pointers from Hoddinott and Vingsen made it a five-point contest again with just more than three minutes left.
The Delone defense then forced a turnover, but the Squirettes turned it back over. Villa Maria then converted four free throws to push the lead back to nine before Mummert hit a 3-pointer with 31.2 seconds left. A turnover gave the Squirettes a chance to pull closer, but another turnover pretty much sealed the outcome.
“I know there are a lot of tears right now,” Eckenrode said of his team. “But I was proud of the way they played. They kept fighting. We didn’t play our best game of the year tonight, but it wasn’t our worst either.”
Rachel Majewski and Carissa Dunham both scored nine points apiece for Villa Maria.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.