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ABINGTON – Emily Leer had just pulled down an offensive rebound on the baseline.
Abington’s 6-2 center briefly surveyed the situation and then made a power move to the hoop, almost effortlessly laying the ball in for a basket that gave the Ghosts an 18-16 lead in Thursday night’s District One AAAA opener against Pennridge.
The play was as definitive as it was impressive, and it not only gave the Ghosts a lead they would not lose against the pesky Rams, it also served notice that Leer – who was sidelined with a knee injury for eight weeks - is back.
Is she ever!
In the second half of the Ghosts’ 38-27 win over the Rams, Leer scored 18 of her game-high 25 points, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. She also had 15 rebounds and four blocked shots in a performance so dominating her opponents could only tip their hats.
“She’s good, you can’t deny that,” said Pennridge senior Shannon Zickler, who was given the unenviable task of defending the gifted junior. “It’s hard. She’s 6-2, and I’m 5-7 if I’m lucky.
“She’s going to score – there’s no doubt. We did our best in the first quarter to keep her without any points, but when she figured it out, she just took it away and obviously had more than half their points.”
Leer, who played with a knee brace, admits she’s starting to feel like her old self.
“Tonight was one of the first games that I really felt like myself – hitting my shots I usually hit,” she said. “The last two games I have been feeling back, but tonight was all me. I was back 100 percent.”
This is bad news for opponents staring across the bracket at Abington but wonderful news for a Ghost squad that entered the season with lofty expectations.
“Emily is a big-time player,” said Abington coach Dan Marsh, who was without freshman standout Aiyannah Peal (injury). “She knew her team needed her, and she stepped up.”
While Leer stole the spotlight, not to be overlooked was the Ghosts’ outstanding defense. The Rams – who live and die by the outside shot – managed just one three-point basket, and it wasn’t because they were missing them. They simply weren’t able to get an uncontested shot on the perimeter.
“That was definitely our game plan,” Marsh said. “We defended (the perimeter) very well”
The loss was an especially disappointing ending for the Rams’ three seniors – Zickler, Lindsey Lyons and Marissa Kunkle.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Lyons, who led the Rams with 12 points. “I don’t think I’m going to play basketball again, so it’s very sad, very emotional.
“I had a lot of fun, especially with the girls and the coaches. They’re a great group of girls. Shannon, Marissa and I have been playing together forever. It was a really fun season – a sad ending, but that happens. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Both teams got off to a relatively slow start. Jen Kelly buried a trey for the Ghosts, but Lyons scored four straight points to give the Rams a 4-3 edge. A basket in close from Liz Layton put the Ghosts on top 5-4 at the end of one quarter.
Leer – who rarely touched the ball except on the perimeter – took just two shots in the quarter. She missed them both.
“They did a good job of collapsing on her,” Marsh said. “We were getting open outside shots. We just weren’t making them. Everybody was pretty nervous except for Emily.”
The Rams had to like their chances when they opened the second quarter with a 7-0 run to go on top 11-5. The run began with a Kunkle trey and culminated with back-to-back Zickler baskets in the paint.
Leer began to make her presence felt in the final minutes of the quarter, turning a pass from Kelly into an easy bucket and then completing a three-point play after a putback that pulled the Ghosts to within two, 12-10.
A Ram turnover resulted in a Leer bucket off the dribble. Zickler rolled to the basket for a deuce, but the Rams knotted the score when Layton scored on a putback at the buzzer.
“Our shots weren’t dropping,” Leer said. “We knew it had to get better, and it couldn’t get much worse.
“We were playing our hearts out, but things weren’t going our way. We knew if we kept up the intensity we would be just fine.”
The Rams went on top 16-14 in the opening moments of the third quarter after Lyons buried a pair from the foul line, but Leer answered with the equalizer.
Leer’s putback to put the Ghosts on top 18-16 marked the beginning of the end for the Rams, who endured a five-and-a-half minute scoring drought.
“They did a really nice job of containing our outside shooting, and that’s our game,” Pennridge coach Brooke Martin said. “We would drive to the basket, and they would have Emily Leer standing underneath.”
Leer – despite being fouled – hit nothing but net on a trey from the top of the circle. It was her first of two treys on the night, and this one put the Ghosts on top 21-16.
“It’s always been my goal to become more guard-oriented,” she said “So every year I work harder and harder on different moves, different shooting.
“This year I focused a lot on the guard area because I know that whenever I go on the post I get attacked by double and triple teams, so I made it part of my game to be able to shoot outside.”
A tough shot by Leer over her defender after pulling down an offensive board gave the Ghosts a 25-16 lead. Lyons broke Abington’s run with a bucket, but Leer – who was unstoppable by this time – connected on a tough turnaround jumper.
After a Ram turnover, Leer found Ajanae Boone for an easy bucket, but Pennridge’s Jordan Dominic, who was fouled on a desperation heave at the buzzer, sank two-of-three from the foul line to make it a 29-20 game heading into the final quarter.
The Rams threatened to make it interesting. Dominic scored on a drive, and the Ghosts turned the ball over, but the Rams returned the favor. Leer connected to up the Ghosts’ lead to 10. The Rams refused to go down quietly.
Lyons scored on a drive, and after a Lyons’ steal, Jen Cooley connected on a pair at the foul line to make it a 32-26 game midway through the fourth quarter. Leer scored on a putback of her own miss, and a win was all but in the books for the Ghosts.
“Pennridge is tough, they are tough,” Marsh said. “They made me nervous the whole time. They’re so dangerous because they can hit some three’s, but we were very prepared for that.”
Leer – her knee in a light wrap – was about to head home to ice her knee, and she admits she will be sore. But for 32 minutes on Thursday night, she was feeling no pain.
“When I’m playing, the knee is not in my head at all,” Leer said. “When you’re in the game, your head’s in the game, and you’re not focused on anything else.
“You could have a broken leg, but if you’re playing the game and your head’s in the game, you don’t feel the pain.”
The ninth-seeded Ghosts will play the winner of Saturday’s game pitting Spring-Ford, the tournament’s 25th seed, and fifth-seeded West Chester Henderson.
ABINGTON 38, PENNRIDGE 27
Pennridge (27) – Lindsey Lyons 3 6-9 12, Jordan Dominic 1 2-3 4, Marissa Kunkle 1 0-0 3, Shannon Zickler 3 0-0 6, Jen Cooley 0 2-2 2, Jordan Villella 0 0-0 0. Totals 8 10-14 27.
Abington (38) – Liz Layton 3 0-0 6, Jen Kelly 1 0-0 3, Ajanae Boone 1 2-2 4, Tess Johns 0 0-1 0, Emily Leer 11 1-2 25, Chynna West 0 0-1 0. Totals 16 3-4 38.
Pennridge 4 10 8 5-27
Abington 5 9 15 9-38
Three-point goals: Pennridge – Marissa Kunkle. Abington – Emily Leer 2, Jen Kelly.