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NORRISTOWN – Merecedes Harris isn’t one to show a whole lot of emotion.
But after scoring on a tough putback to put Norristown on top 58-56 in Saturday night’s regular season finale against Plymouth Whitemarsh, Norristown’s senior forward – who was fouled on the play - smiled and clenched her fist in celebration.
“I was really excited,” Harris said. “I just wanted to win this game. I really wanted it.
“It’s my senior year, and I wanted to go out with a bang.”
Thanks in no small part to the effort of Harris – who had six points down the stretch and a team-high 16, the Eagles survived a furious PW comeback to earn a 64-60 win in the first half of a girls/boys Senior Night double header on Saturday night.
“The seniors were emotional – I know I was emotional,” Harris said. “We really wanted to win since they beat us the last time.
“This feels great, especially because this is my last year. I couldn’t ask for more.”
The win avenged a 48-39 loss to the Colonials eight days earlier. More importantly, it effectively silenced critics who didn’t give the Eagles much of a chance this season with the graduation of last year’s entire starting lineup and the departure of coach Keith Webster.
The new-look Eagles closed out the regular season with an impressive 14-8 record.
“It feels great,” Norristown senior Brittney Rose said. “It feels – as coach would say – phenomenal.”
The win put the finishing touches on special Senior Night festivities for the Eagles, and even the players couldn’t have written a better script for the first regular season under rookie coach Ashlee Harrison.
“This means a lot – not only are we seniors, but we weren’t really friends at first,” Rose said. “There was a lot of separation – some people quit the team, some people didn’t come out, but when coach came, she brought us all together.
“We became a family. We really are family now, and to come together as seniors – everyone feels really good to beat a good team.”
The Eagles, who led by as many as 17 early in the third quarter, needed some late-game heroics to eke out the win over the fired-up Colonials, who still trailed by nine (52-43) heading into the final quarter.
Meg Piotrowicz, who led all scorers with 19 points, buried a trey early in the fourth quarter to make it a 52-48 game. A Piotrowicz steal resulted in a pair of Taylor McGarvey foul shots, and it was a 54-52 game when sophomore Alyssa Butcher turned a nifty Piotrowicz pass – after an offensive rebound of a missed foul shot – into an easy bucket.
A short jumper by Angie Branigan (16 points) knotted the score 54-54, and Harris finally broke a four-minute scoring drought for the Eagles with a big basket after a strong drive.
“We weren’t connecting like we were at the beginning,” Harris said. “In the first half, we were finding each other and finishing underneath like we were doing at the beginning of the season.”
Piotrowicz banked home a shot at the other end to knot the score, and the Colonials quite simply refused to go away.
“In the first half, a lot of us got in foul trouble,” the PW senior said. “I had two fouls in the first quarter, Angie had two fouls, and our rule is if you get two fouls – you don’t play in the first half.
“We went into halftime and said, ‘No, this isn’t happening. That score is not going to look like that by the end of the game.’ We came out fired up after halftime. We wanted to show everyone what we can do.”
The big putback by Harris, who came up short on the foul shot, put the Eagles on top 58-56, but sophomore Alyssa Butcher buried a tough shot just inside the arc to knot things up yet again. The two teams exchanged missed scoring opportunities, but with 53 seconds remaining, Harris, who was fouled going back up after an offensive rebound, sank a pair from the foul line.
A Colonial turnover set the stage for Natasha Matthews to step to the foul line for an important one-and-one. She made one-of-two, but when Piotrowicz scored on a putback with 10 seconds remaining, the Eagles’ lead was trimmed to one.
With eight seconds remaining, Matthews, who had 15 points, iced the win when she buried a pair from the line.
“I knew if I missed them that if anything was to go wrong, it would be my fault because I didn’t finish at the line,” Matthews said. “I think we all played well and proved to people it’s not just the seniors from last year. There were still other people here that can play hard.”
Although disappointed to see a 17-point lead to slip away, Harrison was pleased with the composure her players showed down the stretch.
“What I told them in the locker room is that what I have learned and hope they have learned from this game and the Upper Dublin game is the way they have been able to maintain their composure and not just fall apart,” the Eagles’ first-year coach said. “That’s where we’ve matured. At the beginning of the season, we weren’t ready for that.
“Now I’m totally confident that we are ready to play in big games simply because of the way they played tonight.”
While the Eagles improved to 9-5 in league play – good enough for a share of second place in the American Conference standings, the Colonials closed out their season with a 7-16 mark overall, 5-9 in league play.
“A lot of us are walking away from basketball right now,” Piotrowicz said of PW’s seven seniors. “It’s a really good feeling to know we came back in the second half. We put it all out there. We took it to 64-60, and we outscored them in the second half. It’s the best we could do.”
The Colonials were coming off a 47-42 win over Springfield (Montco) one night earlier.
“I don’t know if it was the tough win last night against Springfield or the hype of playing before the boys,” PW coach John Quinn said. “We just started out flat.
“I told them in the locker room after the game that I was so proud of the way they came back. Down (17), and they came back to tie it up. I said to myself – I would take a loss like this over a blowout win, but then I came to my senses and said, ‘No, I wouldn’t.’ That was the best second half of basketball I have ever been involved in. It was an awesome half.”
NORRISTOWN 64, PLYMOUTH WHITEMARSH 60
Plymouth Whitemarsh (60) – Kate Mundy 2 2-2 6, Taylor McGarvey 2 2-2 7, Angie Branigan 6 3-6 16, Meg Piotrowicz 8 1-1 19, Alyssa Butcher 3 2-4 8, Katie Wacker 0 0-0 0, Lexi Piazza 1 0-0 2, Samantha Cipar 0 2-2 2. Totals 22 11-17 60.
Norristown (64) – Cashae Hinton 2 2-4 7, Netta Wyse 4 4-5 12, Devin Blake 3 0-0 6, Brittney Rose 2 2-2 6, Mercedes Harris 6 4-5 16, Natasha Matthews 4 7-10 15, Nicole Graham 1 0-0 2. Totals 22 19-26 64.
Plymouth Whitemarsh 11 12 20 17-60
Norristown 17 21 14 12-64
Three-point goals: PW – Meg Piotrowicz, Angie Branigan. Norristown – Cashae Hinton.