PIAA 6A Semifinal Preview: Souderton vs. North Allegheny

Souderton will face District 7 champion North Allegheny in Monday’s PIAA 6A semifinal. Check back for a recap. Photo of the 1972-73 girls' basketball team reproduced from the Souderton Independent.

“Who thought we were going to be here?”

The answer to Souderton coach Lynn Carroll’s question after her team’s historic win over Plymouth Whitemarsh in a PIAA 6A quarterfinal game Saturday can be summed up rather simply – no one did.

“At this point, I don’t care who we’re playing (in the state semifinals),” the Indians’ coach said. “I don’t think anyone thought we were going to be where we are right now, and here we are.

“It’s a very good team North Allegheny. We’ll watch some film and practice (Sunday) and continue to go after it, but I’m assuming most of these games people were thinking, ‘I don’t think Souderton’s going to win.’ It’s not a bad situation to be in. We’re playing loose, no pressure. Hopefully, we can keep that going.”

The Indians find themselves in the 6A state semifinals because they’ve saved their best for last, winning each of their three state playoff games by double digits after stumbling into the tournament as the 11th and final seed from District One.

“I did not think we were going to be in this position,” Carroll said. “I had no idea coming in.

“I knew we were going to be good, but I didn’t know how good we could be with the addition of Kate (Connolly) and figuring out who we were going to be as a team – that took some time. We had moments of greatness throughout the regular season, and we had moments of disappointment where – ‘Okay, maybe we’re not that good.’

“Getting through districts was tough. We barely got into states, and now we’ve kind of peaked, and we’re playing our best basketball of the season, and we know exactly who are. We definitely have an identity. The girls are playing with so much intelligence on both ends of the court. They work so hard on defense. Anybody that’s out there is really working as hard as she can. I’m so happy for them.”

If there was a turning point in the postseason, it came after the team fell to Upper Dublin 34-30 in a district playback game that saw the Indians score just six second-half points after opening up a 24-14 halftime lead.

“It felt like an absolute low point,” said Carroll, whose team had beaten UD soundly in a scrimmage. “We really thought going in we were the better team. We felt good about the situation. We were playing great, and we ended up losing.”

In an attempt to right the ship, the Indians did some soul searching.

“In practice, we spent 40 minutes in a classroom kind of breaking down how we’ve been feeling,” Carroll said. “We really, really laid a lot out on the table. A lot of words like ‘afraid to lose’ came up.

“Kate Connolly – the only one who had been in this position before – spoke about what a neat experience it is, and rather than playing afraid to lose, play because of how great it feels when you win. It was exactly what the team needed to hear from someone who has been there as a player.”

Last year this time, Connolly was in the starting lineup of an Archbishop Wood team that captured the PIAA Class 3A title. This year, she is the unmistakable backbone of a team that exceeded all expectations, delivering big plays at both ends of the court.

The Drexel-bound junior is averaging 10.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, but her contributions go beyond the numbers.

“Everybody else has certainly gotten better and that has helped,” Carroll said. “I think it’s become contagious.

“She has turned it on, and they all feel better about life. It’s like – ‘Oh wow, I guess I’ll play fearless also.’”

Connolly has been a perfect fit for the Indians, and the junior standout is enjoying the unexpected ride.

“This is a great experience with this group of girls,” she said. “We’re all really close, and it’s really fun to get this far with each other.”

Carroll is familiar with the state playoffs. Her Cheltenham teams advanced to the state semifinals in three of her four high school years.

“It’s a great experience,” the Indians’ coach said. “The number of people in the stands and the energy – it’s a neat thing to be a part of. It felt like we barely beat Coatesville (in the 11th place game) to make it happen, but since then, it’s been for the joy of winning and not the fear of losing, and what a difference that made.

“I’m not quite sure they understand how special this is, but the way they’re playing – nobody cares who scores. They’re happy to pass the ball, find the open man. There’s no drama at all, and everybody is working really hard on defense. Whether they understand how special it is right now - at some point they will.”

This is now, that was thenThere’s no mistaking that the Indians have captured the imagination of their school and community as evidenced by the partisan Souderton crowds at the Indians’ second round and quarterfinal wins.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” junior Tori Dowd said. “No one ever would have expected this.
“Me coming into high school thinking we would make it to the state final four – it’s insane. It’s so awesome. Our students are traveling with us. We haven’t had a student section all year, and now they’re all here supporting us. The vibe in the school is just awesome.”

There was undoubtedly a similar vibe 44 years ago in 1973 when the PIAA had its first ever state championship in girls’ basketball. Souderton – after winning its third consecutive Bux-Mont championship – was one of eight teams in the District One Tournament that year.

In a preview of the district opener in the Souderton Independent, the area’s local weekly newspaper, each player’s height, weight and scoring average was published The team’s projected starting lineup featured Marilyn Rice (5-9, 139, 19.8 ppg), Eileen Lilley (5-10, 135, 15.2), Cindy Franklin (5-5, 123, 11.6 ppg), Nancy Hoelzle (5-9, 125, 11.4 ppg ) and Deeni Landis (5-6, 128, 8.9 ppg). Reserve Sharon Detweiler (5-9, 140) averaged 12.1 points a game while Wendy Frese (5-5, 115) and Lynne Hitchener (5-8, 138) averaged 6.5 and 5.2 points a game respectively. The team was coach by Cloyd ‘Bucky’ Price, and based on those scoring averages, this was a very high-scoring team.

The Indians entered their district opener with a 9-0 record and easily defeated Owen J Roberts 40-27. In a semifinal contest on the Palestra hardwood, the Indians ran into a powerhouse Plymouth Whitemarsh squad and fell 49-30, breaking a 34-game winning streak that extended over more than three seasons.

Unlike the 1972 Souderton squad that had a nine-game regular season, this year’s team will play its 30th game on Monday night. They’d like to play 31.

#1-11 SOUDERTON vs. #7-1 NORTH ALLEGHENY (at Chambersburg High School, Monday, 7 p.m.
Souderton

  • 22-7 overall
  • 8-4 SOL Continental Conference third place behind North Penn and Central Bucks West.
  • Balanced attack led by junior Kate Connolly (10.4 ppg), junior Alana Cardona (9.4 ppg) and sophomore Megan Walbrandt (8.6 ppg).
  • First trip to state tournament in program history
  • Entered the District One Tournament as the eight seed.

How they got here:

  • In a quarterfinal game, Souderton defeated District One runner-up Plymouth Whitemarsh 43-32. Junior Kate Connolly led the Indians with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocked shots. Her buzzer beater to end the third quarter sent the Indians into the final quarter with a 37-29 lead. Alana Cardona and Megan Bealer added eight points each while Megan Walbrandt and Sami Falencki had six each. The Indians allowed just 12 points in the second half.
  • In a second round contest, Souderton defeated Central Bucks South, the fourth place team from District One, 40-27. The Indians used a 14-4 run to blow open a close game. Junior Sami Falencki accounted for eight of those points off the bench. Junior Kate Connolly led the Indians with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Megan Walbrandt (seven points) and Alana Cardona (six points) also contributed.
  • In an opening round game, Souderton stunned District 3 champion Central Dauphin, jumping out to a 26-17 halftime lead and blowing the game wide open with a 17-4 third quarter en route to a 50-29 win. Junior Kate Connolly was unstoppable, connecting on 10-of-12 shots from the field and scoring a career-high 30 points. The Drexel recruit also had 15 rebounds, four steals, two blocks and two assists. Sophomore Megan Bealer added eight points, seven rebounds and four steals.

North Allegheny

  • 27-1 overall
  • District 7 champions
  • Ranked No. 22 in most recent USA Today Super 25, the only team from Pennsylvania on the Super 25 list.
  • 17-game winning streak since only loss of season on Jan. 6 to Pine Richland (50-47)
  • Third state semifinal appearance in four years. Lost to eventual state champion Cumberland Valley (43-42) in 2016.
  • Balanced attack led by sophomore Hailey Zeise (12 ppg) and senior Hailey Zeise (11 ppg).
  • Defense allows just 38 points a game.

How they got here:

  • In a quarterfinal contest, North Allegheny defeated District 7’s fourth place team, Pine Richland, 50-38. The Tigers, who led 24-16 at the intermission, were led by the 16-point effort of Rachel Martindale, who had four 3-pointers. Hailey Zeise (12 points) and Madelyn Fischer (10 points) also finished in double figures.
  • In a second round game, North Allegheny defeated Mt. Lebanon 56-52. Hailey Zeise led the way with 15 points and five rebounds while Madelyn Fischer added 13 points and eight rebounds. Sophomore Rachel Martindale had 10 points.
  • In an opening round game, North Allegheny earned a 50-34 win over District 7 seventh place squad Hempfield. Rachel Martindale led a balanced attack with 12 points while Hailey Zeise had seven points, five rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocked shots.