It's been a long stretch: 22 games without a loss. With the district title on the line, the Spring-Ford girls basketball team had its sights set on bringing the glory home to Limerick... home to Royersford... home to Spring City... home to Upper Providence...
And in an exciting game at the Pavilion of Villanova University on Friday night - a game against a familiar opponent, North Penn, who knocked the girls out of districts twice in the last two years - the girls achieved their goal: a district title; and have extended their win streak one more, defeating the Knights, 46-33.
Head coach Jeff Rinehimer said it would be a tough one against the Knights, but the girls kept their composure and brought home the title - the first one in Rinehimer's tenure.
"They just work hard," Rinehimer said. "It’s every day in practice. There’s not a day you come into the gym that you’re upset as far as how they’re practicing and playing. They just push each other. All the drills are hard, because no one gives them a break. They got to do that to be successful."
Rinehimer's team has held the theme of diversity in 2011-12 - with any girl in the starting five and any girl off the bench being able to provide a spark and contribute the right aspects of the game and the right time. He put it best in an analogy in the pregame speech tonight.
"I said: 'Roy Halladay throws a perfect game,'" Rinehimer explained. "'He strikes out 13, I go, that’s 14 balls that are hit. Some guys might not catch one the whole game. So, you can’t really get involved that way. In this sport, you can do so many more things than score the basketball and be effective. I was just telling them, don’t let the shot define you.'"
The first quarter looked very similar to the semifinals game on Wednesday night - back and forth, each side feeling out its opponent. At the end of one, the score was knotted up at 10. But the second quarter would prove to begin the sealing of fates for each team.
The Lady Rams went on a 20-3 run throughout the second quarter and into the early part of the third. At halftime, the girls held a nine point lead, but had some improvements in mind.
"Most of it came off of the defensive end," said senior guard Jaida Burgess. "Tips, steals, rebounding. We went in at halftime, we realized they were up 13-7 on rebounding. We realized that can’t happen. We went out there and did what we had to do."
Burgess, who was the points leader in Wednesday night's Council Rock South win, hit the floor hard with less than a minute to go in the third. She said she had the wind knocked out of her. She did not return to the game, despite her desire to help the team win.
"It was tough," said Rinehimer. "At this level, the referees have a little bit more discretion. I just thought, we were at the point if it were a little earlier, I could have got somebody in. She wanted to get back in there. You almost have to knock her out to keep her out. She loves basketball."
The girls continued to hold a comfortable lead throughout the rest of the game, drawing the proper fouls and staying confident in their ability to win. The girls went 11-14 from the line. Rinehimer was happy to see progress in that department.
"That was good," Rinehimer said. "We wanted that to be something we didn’t have to worry about. There was a stretch in the middle of the season where we were not good at all. Some of the games it could have come back and beat us. It means a lot to come back after missing some at South. Tonight was better."
Mariah Traywick also battled some odds Friday night. She said she was feeling a little sick during the day. That didn't hinder her performance; however, leading the Rams with 12 points. She also added a rebound, two blocks and two steals. She was happy to see her team get the victory, 46-33.
"It means so much," she said. "We wanted this so bad. We wanted to get that title. I’m speechless. It’s amazing. It proves how hard we worked this year and how much we wanted to get everything back that we lost."
The girls qualified for the AAAA State Championship Tournament through its effort in districts. The tournament begins on March 9. They hope to continue to play as a team and defeat the tough competition throughout.
"Our motto this year is 'Together As One,'" said junior forward Sarah Payonk. "Playing together is how we get through. It’s not one individual player on the team that’s going to win the game. We play together and play how we play."
Post-Game Group Shot Courtesy of Dave Conard (www.drcphoto.org)
Mariah Traywick - 12
Jaida Burgess - 7
Brittany Moore - 7
Nikki Lynch - 6
Sarah Payonk - 5
Sammy Stipa - 5
Shelby Mueller - 4
Stipa - 3
Payonk - 2
Burgess - 1
Moore - 1
Payonk - 8
Mueller - 4
Moore - 2
Stipa - 2
Maggie Locke - 2
Traywick - 1
Lynch - 1
Traywick - 2
Stipa - 1
Locke - 1
Mueller - 1
Payonk - 5
Burgess - 2
Stipa - 2
Traywick - 2
Moore - 1
Mueller - 1