It’s been three years since the Pennridge girls basketball team made it into the postseason.
In order to get there, the Rams have to be among the top 24 teams in the District One 6A rankings. While it had two returning All-Suburban One Colonial Division players in senior Katie Yoder and junior Anna Croyle, Pennridge entered the current campaign without graduates Emma Pyne (Cabrini), Katie Loughran and Ryan Hodder, who earned All-SOL Honorable Mention status.
After a slow start (1-3) against Suburban One Colonial foes, Pennridge is currently ranked 17th in the 6A grouping. The Rams were 10-5 after their recent 59-44 triumph over Patriot division rival Council Rock North.
“When we started, we set that as our goal – we want to play in a district (playoff) game,” said first-year Pennridge head coach Jason Rapp.
“Once you get into districts, you win one game, you have a shot to go to the state tournament.”
Half the 24 teams in districts earn a ticket to states.
“A lot of coaches don’t tell their players where they’re ranked but I’ve made it a point to tell them because I don’t think they’ve experienced being in that position.
“We’re one spot out with eight (games) to go. It’s added some fun, some motivation.”
“It’s neat for them that they can see a carrot that they can reach.
“And they’ve embraced it.”
After coming up short in their first two league pairings, the Rams’ first significant win of the season came in a 44-43 triumph over league rival CB East (13th in D1-6A) in a mid-December matchup at home.
Ahead 34-26 after three quarters, Pennridge withstood a furious comeback bid by East in the final frame in notching its first league victory 44-43. Yoder and sophomore Ella Brown led the offense with 11 points each. Senior Grace Rosica chipped in eight, including 4-of-4 from the foul line. Senior Olivia Poole and Croyle added seven points each to the effort.
Croyle – the Rams’ best defensive player, kept the Patriots’ Anna Barry off the scoreboard entirely.
“The games where we defend, we have a shot to win,” commented Rapp. “That was something we talked about in the beginning of the season and I think we’re starting to get it.
“We have some talent on offense, it’s just a matter of getting our girls to defend and rebound. And we did that against East.
While Pennridge dropped a mid-December matchup with CB West at home, the Rams rebounded with four consecutive wins including a 46-29 triumph over 10th-ranked Pennsbury Jan. 6 at home. Yoder led the way with 14 points including 9-of-9 from the foul line, Rosica had 10 points and Brown canned nine but it was the defense that enabled Pennridge to get up 17-8 at the half and close the game out with a 17-9 fourth quarter.
“We can score and right now, we’re starting to figure out how to guard people,” said Rapp.
“Katie and Ella are really good offensive players and when you figure out how to guard people, it makes it that much easier to stay in games.”
No rest for the weary as the following day, sans Croyle, the Rams hosted tough Pioneer Athletic Conference rival Methacton, currently ranked 15th in District One and it was a battle for the ages that went double overtime.
Hear the coach tell it.
“It was one of the best games I’ve been involved with for a long time and it’s got to be one of the best games I’ve ever seen,” stated Rapp.
While the Rams trailed by six points with 28 seconds to go, they got a deep 3-pointer from Brown. After forcing a turnover on the Warriors’ inbound pass, Rosica canned the game-tying bucket with less than two seconds to go in regulation.
Trailing by three points in the first overtime junior Ava Fantaskey hit a three to tie the score at 54-all. Again trailing by three, this time, it was Yoder canning a deep three and Fantaskey blocking a shot at the other end of the court to send the skirmish into its second extra session.
Brown hit a three early on in double OT and Pennridge hit all their free throws to help seal a 71-64 triumph.
Yoder canned a game-high 27 points and Brown added 23, a career high for the sophomore who only played limited minutes off the bench last season.
And those key wins over Pennsbury and Methacton vaulted the Rams into district playoff contention.
“We are super excited about this year,” said Yoder. “At the beginning of the season we all knew we were going to have a good team but we’re beating teams we haven’t beaten in a really long time so we’re really excited about that.”
“We played really good defensively,” added Rapp. “Methacton has got some players but our girls did a really good job and it gave them a lot of confidence.
Among the Rams’ strengths is coach-ability, said Rapp.
If there’s a weakness, it’s only due to a lack of experience.
While Poole started the season as the sixth man, she has since been thrust into a starting role due to injuries. The team was missing Rosica and Croyle in its recent setback at Neshaminy.
“We were missing our two point guards (Rosica and Croyle) and Neshaminy sped us up,” explained Rapp. “I just think we ran out of gas and they wound up running away with it in the fourth quarter.”
Rapp said juniors Nikki Rindone and Abby Huskin have performed splendidly off the bench.
“These other girls, when they’ve been asked, have done a good job, especially considering they have limited experience,” explained Rapp.
With a full league slate to go, Pennridge has a tough road in front of them as they close out the season early next month. The Rams went 2-3 their first time through the league schedule but that was before the team’s newfound confidence.
“We’re pretty confident, right now,” said Yoder. “We think that any of these games will be a good matchup for us.
“Souderton is really tall and lengthy and they’re really good but other than them, we feel we can hang out with any team in our league.”
District playoffs commence Feb. 17. Pennridge fans can’t wait.
@stevesherman222 on Twitter