SPRINGFIELD — There’s not much you can say about Springfield’s bruising 29-24 victory over Abington Heights in the PIAA Class 5A state quarterfinals Saturday beyond the obvious: it’s going to leave some marks.
The Cougars couldn’t make shots, and neither could the Comets.
Cougars coach Ky McNichol was running out of things to tell her girls during the timeouts.
“We just told them to keep shooting shots, they’re eventually going to fall,” McNichol said. “They never did. But they just kept grinding and grinding and playing defense and then knocking down foul shots when they needed to. And getting defensive stops when they needed to.”
There were no field goals for either team – repeat, zero ... as in, nada – in the all-important final frame. Subsequently, a trip to the state semifinals opposite Cardinal O’Hara was earned via an eight-minute foul-shooting effort for the Cougars.
Beyond their defense, that’s what the Cougars do best, and they sank eight of 12 in the frame, none bigger than two swishes by co-captain Alexa Abbonizio to break a tie and give the Cougars the lead for good.
Of all the points Abbonizio has tallied on her way to becoming the leading scorer in the history of Springfield girls basketball, none meant more to the program.
“We’ve had games like this but we never buried our heads,” Abbonizio said. “Rachel Conran did a great job of picking us up today. And we all were making our free throws. It was a crazy game. They played their butts off, we played our butts off and it really came down to free throws and how we really wanted it more towards the end. We were the ones that really wanted it, so we went out and finished it.”
The taller Comets had done a surprisingly good job of dealing with the trap the Cougars throw at the opposition. Alarms sounded while the visitors constructed a 10-4 lead entering the second period.
Comets’ big girl Allison Dammer scored six of her team-high nine points to give her side a 16-13 lead at the intermission. A couple of the baskets resulted from beating the Cougar press.
One of the turning points for Springfield came on a possession in the third quarter, the cold-shooting lineup trailing by eight points and threatening to fall behind for good. After three straight Cougar misses on open looks from beyond the arc, Conran grabbed a rebound and drilled a jumper, then added another basket and, with 3:41 left, Lexi Aron bombed a trey. That was the last field goal of the game.
“I think the difference was just our hustle and our defense,” said Conran, who scored nine points. “Our defense has been there for us all season. We just were giving it our all in that fourth quarter. And rebounding was huge, too. Anabel Kreydt did a great job on the boards. Great team effort on defense. When we’re slow on offense we try to get some momentum on defense. There’s some games when shots don’t fall but you’ve got to win in other ways, and that’s what we did.”
Kreydt made three of four free throw attempts in the fourth quarter and scored five points from the stripe in the game. She also made a huge steal after Abbonizio missed the front end of a one-and-bonus and prevented Dammer from going off in the four quarter.
“Anabel Kreydt was the X factor rebounding the ball and battling,” McNichol said. “She got every rebound. And Rachel Conran, every rebound. They never left second-chance opportunities. And they were much bigger than us. We battled hard on the boards. Whatever it takes, and it was our defense today that really set the tone for this team.”
The Comets (13-3) did not go quietly. It was a one-point game with 22 seconds remaining. Two Conran free throws and a steal by Aron sealed it.
“It was a very strange game,” Comets coach Deanna Klingman said. “There was a lot of activity on the floor, not a lot of calls. But it comes down to we didn’t put the ball in the basket. We had many, many opportunities. I thought we did a great job defensively. But you’ve got to score the ball in the postseason. We average 60 points a game and we couldn’t buy a basket, as you saw, in the second half. So, that’s what it came down to.”
The Cougars (21-0) remained undefeated in their new gym. They’re slated to host the Lions Tuesday. Though it looked like the Comets could be making another two-hour bus ride south to Delco, there was no doubt in the minds of the Cougars that they could do this. And they did.
“All we’ve got to do is win by one and we’ll get the ‘W,’” McNichol said. “And the kids got it done today. I’m really, really proud of them. This is the farthest Springfield basketball has ever been. These kids have played their hearts out game in and game out.”