Note: This article originally published in The Reporter and on PaPrepLive.com
WHITEMARSH >> Even the best teams in the Suburban One League American Conference don’t always come out firing on all cylinders every night. The undefeated Plymouth Whitemarsh girls basketball team fell victim to that Tuesday night against Cheltenham.
“I think my girls came out a little flat,” Plymouth Whitemarsh head coach Dan Dougherty said. “It’s just a long season…but Cheltenham had a lot to do with it too. Cheltenham brought the energy and we were unable to match that energy at the beginning of the game
The best teams in the SOL American also recover. Despite the slow start, the Lady Colonials woke up in the second half and improved to 18-0 on the season in a 44-30 victory.
After holding just a three-point lead at the end of the first half, PW (12-0 SOL American) stormed out with a 7-0 run to start the second half and balloon its lead to 10. Cheltenham would never come within single digits after.
“Something that they have to learn from constantly is you’re not just gonna show up and beat teams,” Dougherty said. “There’s a target on our backs, everyone wants to beat us, we’re undefeated right now. You have to embrace that challenge.”
Lauren Fortescue did a little bit of everything for the Lady Colonials, finishing the game with 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists.
“She’s an excellent three-point shooter, as far as defense goes we put her on Caitlin Wallace, who is one of their sharpshooters, but in the press she kind of plays free safety back there…and offensively some of the passes she makes are special.”
The junior personified the crucial run to start the second half that put PW up for good in the game.
“I just try and talk to myself, honestly,” Fortescue said. “I just don’t want to regret playing a tired, lazy game at the end.”
Taylor O’Brien also imposed her will, particularly in the second half. The talented junior drove to the basket all night long en route to her game-high 14 points.
“Taylor O’Brien certainly got much more aggressive as the game went on,” Cheltenham head coach Brendan Nolan said. “Hard kid to stop. Hard kid to stop.”
The first quarter was sloppy, seeing more combined turnovers between the two teams (12) than points (9). Cheltenham (11-9, 7-5) got a strong rebounding effort from Mia Leonard, who collected four boards to go along with two points and a block. The pace also benefitted the Lady Panthers, who led 5-4 after one quarter. PW was unable to get the offense going and, as a result, unable to set up its press.
“Credit the Cheltenham, too. When we played them the first time around it was 26-8 after the first quarter,” Dougherty said. “Tonight they handled the press a lot better.”
“They shocked us the first time they played us. I don’t think we were as shocked tonight,” Nolan added. “We understood a little bit more how to defend them, which is something that initially works. After a while a team has a counter-punch and we’re not necessarily ready to step up and handle that.”
The teams settled in better during the second quarter, which the Lady Colonials won 14-10. Fortescue collected six points and two assists in the quarter.
Leonard had been a presence in the middle the entire first half, but picked up her third foul with 2:31 to play. From there PW went on a 5-0 run and turned a 15-13 deficit into an 18-15 lead heading into the halftime locker room.
“Any time Mia Leonard is off the floor that opens up a lot in the middle of the floor for us,” Dougherty said.
Leonard finished the game with just four points, but pulled down 10 rebounds in the game and stood tall in the middle while she was on the floor.
Most of the time when a team is off for an entire half the end result is a loss. Plymouth Whitemarsh was able to gain its learning experience and still keep a zero in the loss column. It doesn’t want to count on that moving forward.
“(Coach Dougherty) just said ‘don’t let 18-0 get to your head,”’ Fortescue said. “So we just have to play like we’re playing a hard team every time. We have to play hard in practice and not let it get to our heads, like coach said.”
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