'Best team in Spring Grove history' sees its standout girls' basketball season ended

ROB ROSE
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Spring Grove's Addyson Wagman, center, works to get past Chartiers Valley's Abby Vaites, left, and Perri Page during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state semifinal action at Bald Eagle High School in Belefonte in Centre County, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Spring Grove would fall to Chartiers Valley 50-33. Dawn J. Sagert photo

BELLEFONTE — Down by six points at halftime, Troy Sowers told his Spring Grove girls' basketball team that one side was going to open the second half on a run and grab control of the game.

The Rockets — a team that Sowers had previously referred to as “a 10-point run waiting to happen” — had often sprinted past foes with furious scoring bursts, and they needed another one on Tuesday night.

Instead, it was District 7 champion Chartiers Valley that took over during the third quarter behind 12 points from Pittsburgh commit Aislin Malcolm and pulled away to eventually secure a 50-33 victory and trip to the PIAA Class 5-A title game at the Giant Center in Hershey on Saturday.

“We’ve done that to a lot of teams this year and at some point in the season you run into a team that does what you do a little bit better, and I thought that Chartiers Valley did what we do a little bit better and it’s unfortunate to end your season,” Sowers said. “When you give everything you have and you still lose, that’s sports.”

Spring Grove's Leah Kale, left, shoots the ball past Chartiers Valley's Perry Page to tie the score at 13 in the second quarter during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state semifinal action at Bald Eagle High School in Belefonte in Centre County, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Spring Grove would fall to Chartiers Valley 50-33. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Malcolm, a junior, was held without a point during the game’s first 16 minutes at Bald Eagle Area High School, while Spring Grove (21-3) played its best defense. The District 3 champion Rockets had allowed just five points with three minutes left in the first quarter — all to Chartiers Valley junior Perri Page, a Columbia commit.

Sowers was disappointed that the Rockets couldn’t take advantage of their solid defense and struggled to score early. Spring Grove tied the game at 16-16 halfway through the second quarter, but the Colts (25-3) closed on a 6-0 run to recapture the lead at intermission.

“We felt good at half(time),” Sowers said. “We knew we didn’t play our best offensive game with 16 points, but we were happy with our defensive effort in the first half. They score 68 (points) a game. To hold them to 22, defensively I felt our game plan worked.”

Slowing down Campbell: Sowers credited Chartiers Valley’s scheme to slow down standout freshman Laila Campbell.

After she scored a career-high 33 points in the quarterfinals, Campbell was held to five points in her first experience playing against a pair of NCAA Division I recruits with two years of experience on her.

The Colts made it their mission to deny Campbell the easy baskets she usually creates with her ability to dribble past defenders and the Rockets couldn’t capitalize on the open looks it created.

“They played great team defense on Laila,” Sowers said. “If they take something away and you don’t take advantage of what they give you, it’s a long night.”

Spring Grove senior Ella Kale led the team in scoring with 11 points, followed by junior Addyson Wagman with nine points and sophomore Leah Kale with eight points.

Spring Grove's Laila Campbell moves the ball down the court during PIAA Class 5-A girls' basketball state semifinal action against Chartiers Valley at Bald Eagle High School in Belefonte in Centre County, Tuesday, March 23, 2021. Spring Grove would fall to Chartiers Valley 50-33. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Keeping sight of the success: While the season ended by a difficult defeat, Sowers instructed his players to not lose sight of the success they enjoyed.

The team became the first squad in school history to claim a district title, and with one senior on the roster, there will likely be more playoff games in Spring Grove's future.

“Reflect on what we did,” Sowers said. “To win (York-Adams League) Division I, win the district title and get to the final four in the state, (is) nothing to hang our heads about …This is by far the best team in Spring Grove history, and I told them to think about that. Although we feel kind of bad tonight about not getting to the one final game, high school players would love to have the career that Ella Kale had. Would love to have the (district) gold medal sitting at home when they got home tonight. We might feel bad about this one, but reflect on what we did.”

Reach Rob Rose at sports@yorkdispatch.com.