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PIAA Class 6A: Spring-Ford's run ends in quarterfinals

03/15/2022, 10:45pm EDT
By Sean McBryan

Sean McBryan (@SeanMcBryan)

Few expected them to be here and yet here they were.

Spring-Ford, which graduated four starting seniors that led the team to a District 1 title and PIAA runner-up finish last year, would have to rely on the sophomore counterparts of Anna Azzara and Mac Pettinelli to get the Rams back to those heights.

They’re off to a pretty good start, even after the 47-41 overtime loss to District 3 champion Central Dauphin in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals Tuesday evening at Manheim Township High School in Neffsville.

“We’re just really proud of them and the way they acted on and off the court,” Spring-Ford head coach Mickey McDaniel said. “The energy and effort they gave us all year to get to this point. Really no one expected us to be here or in the district championship or even win our conference. They’ve got a lot of achievements that they’ve accomplished.

“I know it hurts them. It hurts all of us right now. But I think when they have a chance to sit back and look at what they’ve accomplished with their youth and inexperience, they’ll realize.”

The District 1 runner-up Rams (25-7) won their fifth consecutive PAC title and won two PIAA tournament games, one more than last year, heading into the quarterfinal tilt with the fellow Rams (23-4) of Central Dauphin.

Anna Azzara (above) and Spring-Ford's sophomore class have two years to chase a state title. (Photo: Sean McBryan/CoBL)

“We had a great season, we battled through,” Azzara said. “We got to places people never thought we would get to.”

The Harrisburg squad had previously knocked out District 1 opponents Upper Dublin and Abington utilizing a towering, experienced lineup consisting of 6-3 senior Caroline Shiery and 6-2 junior Alexis Buie. The Rams’ starting point guard, senior Marlie Dickerson, is 5-11 with sharpshooting senior Megan Cavoli and senior Amelia Green rounding out the starting five.

The District 1 Rams, on the other hand, featured a lineup with one senior, Kamryn Pufko, and four sophomores including Azzara, Pettinelli, Katie Tiffan and Siena Miller. The tallest of these players is Pettinelli at 5-9. 

Size and experience be damned because Spring-Ford was right there, as it’s been all season.

The 5-7 Azzara, who averages about four rebounds per game, led everyone with 11.

“It was really just an added emphasis,” Azzara said on the rebounding aspect. “I knew I had to rebound because they were a tall team. I just try to give it my all.”

They packed the paint and forced Central Dauphin to make jumpshots, an effective game plan that gave CD trouble and Spring-Ford a 17-12 lead at the half.

A slashing offense and activity on the glass got Shiery into foul trouble and she was relegated to the bench for most of the first half. 

The momentum shifted in the third quarter as Spring-Ford picked up four fouls within the first three minutes, largely due to Shiery returning. CD regained the lead at 18-17 with 5:18 left in the quarter and led 28-24 at the end of the third.

In the fourth, Azzara hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 30-29 with 4:29 left and the teams went back and forth before settling on a 34-34 tie after Pufko hit two free throws with 58 seconds left. Pettinelli’s deep try went wide as regulation time expired.

CD took command and began overtime with a 9-0 run. Pettinelli converted a four-point play to make it 43-38 with 41.8 seconds left, but it was too late as CD iced it with foul shots.

Azzara finished with 10 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block; Pettinelli had 15 points and five rebounds. Shiery had 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocks and Dickerson 13 points and seven rebounds for CD.

The District 3 champion Rams move on to face District 7 champion Mt. Lebanon, a 46-31 victor over Easton, in the semifinals.

Azzara and Pettinelli played pivotal roles as freshmen on last season’s team that made it to the state final and played like seniors with poise on Tuesday. It appeared like they had been there before because they had; they excelled stepping into leadership roles even though they were underclassmen.

It’s hard to believe they each have two more years of high school basketball.

“Everything we’ve learned, everything that’s happened,” Azzara said about what she and the team will take from this season. “We just don’t want to experience a loss like this again. We want to keep going forward and get to where we can be.”

And where’s that? A state championship?

“I believe it is,” Azzara said.

By Quarter
CD:   8   |   4   |  16  |   6   |  13  ||  47
SF:   8   |   9   |   7   |  10  |   7   ||  41

CD: Caroline Shiery 17, Marlie Dickerson 13, Megan Cavoli 8, Amelia Green 7, Alexis Ferguson 2.

SF: Mac Pettinelli 15, Anna Azzara 10, Kam Pufko 4, Megan Robbins 4, Katie Tiffan 3, Siena Miller 3, Aaliya Solliday 2.

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