Article by Eric Epler, Pennlive.com/Photos by Chris Knight
For the full article, click here.
NEW HOLLAND – Losing sight of Spring-Ford’s all-star guard Sammy Stipa is never a good idea, especially in crunch time. Unfortunately for a courageous outfit from Mechanicsburg, that lesson learned was a bit more painful with the Wildcats basketball season hanging in the balance.
Stipa and the defending PIAA Class AAAA champion Rams found their offense at just the right time Tuesday at Garden Spot High School as Mickey McDaniel’s troops outscored the Wildcats 17-6 in the final period and recorded a 42-35 Round of 16 victory.
Trailing 33-29 with under 6:30 to play, Spring-Ford (25-6) ravaged the Wildcats with a 13-0 run with Stipa leading the assault. The Lafayette recruit stashed the first seven points of that sprint and finished with a team-high 14 points.
Cecily Carl’s 15 points paced Mechanicsburg (22-8), hellbent on preserving its season until Stipa intervened. Spring-Ford advances to the Elite 8 against fellow District 1 program Abington, a 53-43 winner over Wilson.
“Sammy is just a clutch player,” said McDaniel about his senior general. “We all know that she’s playing hurt but she just finds a way to get it done. When it needs to be done, you can always count on Sammy Stipa.”
Spring-Ford’s hard-nosed defense took its toll early, but Clay McAllister’s Wildcats turned a corner in the second period. Using Carl’s 18-footer and a Jordan Hertz runner to right the ship, the Wildcats chased ahead when Hertz nailed another tough leaner and Carl converted a Hannah Brown drop-in, all in the final 40 seconds of the half.
Carl was on point again when her 3-pointer from the top of the key, and traditional three-point play to follow, helped the Wildcats build 31-25 edge with 7:50 to play.
Still, a few wasted possessions led to a string of four straight turnovers that strengthened Spring-Ford’s resolve. Less than two minutes later, Stipa’s deep 3-ball from the left wing turned momentum for good.
The senior followed with a 18-foot jumper, then pulled up from 10 feet to granted the Rams a 36-33 advantage at the 4:10 mark. Buckets by Shelby Mueller (11 points), off a Stipa assist, and Abby Beyer quickly put the Rams out of reach.
The Wildcats could only counter with a Kourtney Landis jumper from the baseline in the waning seconds. Mechanicsburg was saddled with 21 turnovers, 13 in the final 16 minutes.
“They mixed it up defensively and they ran a ton of bodies at us. We went with the girls that got us here,” said McAllister. “We knew we were going to turn it over a little against them, but we talked about not turning it over near mid-court, or in a position where we couldn’t get back to defend.”
Mechanicsburg won the rebounding edge, 23-20, with Carl’s eight leading the way. … Molly Hynes and Beyer shared 12 points for Spring-Ford, who played without 6-0 junior Maggie Locke (concussion). Mueller picked up the slack with six rebounds. … Stipa also collected five rebounds and three steals.
WHAT THEY SAID
“We lost Stipa there in the fourth quarter. We really thought if we could get it into the low 40s, we had a pretty good shot. But I’m proud of how we responded after that first quarter. We just didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.” – Mechanicsburg head coach Clay McAllister
“They just find a way to get it done. They have huge hearts and they showed it again tonight. We’ve got to keep working on our offense. We know that but, at the same time, we do have that defense that can help us through.” – Spring-Ford skipper Mickey McDaniel
Article by Jake Adams, The Sentinel
For the full article and photos of the game, click here.
GARDEN SPOT – Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel described his team with six simple words.
“They’re together five fingers, one fist,” McDaniel said.
For a while the Rams (24-5) weren’t much of a fist in their second round battle against Mechanicsburg (23-7) in the AAAA state tournament. A defensive scrum for three quarters left Spring-Ford scrambling for some sort of success.
But they finally punched through in the fourth quarter, thanks to a seven-point outburst by senior Sammy Stipa, breaking a four-point deficit to down the Wildcats 42-35.
“We needed that spark in some way,” Stipa said.
For three quarters Mechanicsburg had the defending state champs on the ropes. The Rams broke out to a 10-6 lead after one quarter of play, but that was due in large part to some bad breaks around the rim as the Wildcats shot just 2-for-10 in the frame.
The next two quarters – while not a shooting exhibition – were more reminiscent of the Mechanicsburg squad that routinely dominated this season. The District 3 sixth seed regrouped in the second quarter, as five Wildcats scored at least two points to take a 21-18 halftime lead.
“I never doubted the fact that we would be ready to go,” Mechanicsburg coach Clay McAllister said. “I don’t feel like we were intimidated in the least, and that’s no disrespect for them.”
The confidence soared in the final three minutes of the half. A corner 3 by Hannah Brown and consecutive jumpers by Jordan Hertz and Cecily Carl cemented an 11-2 run in the closing minutes.
“Their two big kids inside (Brown and Carl), they’re just tough, tough players,” McDaniel said. “They play physical, they go after you and they rebound well.”
The boxing match continued in the third quarter, with the Wildcats keeping the upper hand. A low-scoring eight minutes of action saw Carl dominate. The junior missed a put-back, but made the ensuing foul shots. Moments later Hertz found her on the wing for a trey. The quarter ended with Carl getting the conventional three-point play in the final seconds to score all eight Wildcats points, pushing the lead to 29-25.
“She’s outstanding,” McAllister said of Carl. “And we have an unselfish team to boot.”
Carl finished with a game-high 15 points and eight rebounds. But outside of her success, the Wildcats struggled offensively.
Both teams played contrasting defensive games, with the Wildcats sporting a half-court zone against Spring-Ford’s constant in-your-face pressure defense.
While Carl nearly hit her season average, Brown and the rest of the team struggled. The constant pressure didn’t allow the perimeter players to feed Brown and Carl inside consistently, part of the reason the Wildcats committed 22 turnovers. Mechanicsburg shot 13-for-33 in the game on top of that.
“I’m sure there’s a lot of teams that played Spring-Ford this year that had 22 turnovers,” McAllister said.
“We definitely did a great job,” Stipa said. “Kudos to all those that guarded (Carl).”
On the flip side, the Wildcats zone held Stipa and Shelby Mueller relatively in check. Both seniors struggled to find open shots throughout the game. But Mechanicsburg did an even better job against their supporting cast, holding the Rams to 16-of-45 from the field and just 18 rebounds. Carl and company hit the glass for 22 boards.
“Their strength negated things we did, our strength negated things they did,” McDaniel said. “So it became a battle of attrition, really, and that’s why we played 11 kids in the first half, trying to keep a lot of our kids fresh.”
It was that strategy – and Stipa’s hot hand – that finally broke the Wildcats.
While McAllister threw out just seven players, Spring-Ford employed 11. In the fourth quarter the fresher legs prevailed, as the Rams shot 7-of-10, led by Stipa’s perfect 3-for-3 that sparked a 7-0 run to recapture the lead for good with four minutes left. The senior dropped two jumpers from the left side, and a trey.
Stipa and company capitalized on three successive Mechanicsburg turnovers on the other end. Seven of their 22 turnovers came in the final frame.
“We had a few empty possession in a row and obviously Stipa’s good,” McAllister said. “She did what she needed to do.”
The loss ends McAllister’s 11th year at the helm of a Wildcats program that returns Carl and Hertz, among others. And after taking the reigning state champions to the brink Tuesday night, there’s plenty for his squad to look forward to.
“If we learn from the three seniors we have and we continue to work and put our time in, it’s a program that can continue to compete at this level,” McAllister.
And maybe next year they’ll be the one delivering the knockout punch.
Email Jake Adams at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @jakeadams520