Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)
All they've done is win.
"They" could refer to Plymouth Whitemarsh (33-0) or Mt. Lebanon (27-1), the two teams facing off in Saturday night's PIAA Class 6A girls' basketball title game with 50 combined victories between them. In the eastern part of the state, nobody has been able to stop the Colonials while in the west, the Blue Devils have run the show all season long.
Two of the best teams in PA meet in Hershey, but only one will get to claim the final victory of the season.
"I think this is probably the state championship a lot of people anticipated," Colonials coach Dan Dougherty said. "I know how good Mt. Lebanon is, it'll be a huge test. This is a true East-West state championship."
As a team, the Blue Devils are really good. It also helps to have an outstanding leader like they do in senior guard Ashleigh Connor.
Saint Louis commit Ashleigh Connor (above, last July) leads Mt. Lebanon out of the western part of the state. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The 5-foot-11 guard is a dynamic scorer averaging 22 points per game this season and has committed to play at St. Louis University next year. She averaged 19 ppg in the WPIAL playoffs and has elevated that number to 22 per contest in states and comes into the title game off a 27-point effort against Central Dauphin in the Blue Devils' 41-35 semifinal win.
Connor is one of her team's tallest players but Mt. Lebanon won the rebounding battle against a CD team with two forwards listed at 6-foot-3 and coach Dori Oldaker has an excellent defense that's only allowing about 37 points per game.
While Connor has carried a lot of the scoring load this postseason, she has a solid team around her. Senior Reagan Murdoch - an American University lacrosse recruit - was a first-team all conference selection with Connor, senior Brooke Collins and her sister Payton Collins have been key contributors and Anna Strieff is a tenacious defensive player.
In some ways, the Blue Devils can relate to the Colonials in terms of really earning this trip to Hershey.
Mt. Lebanon lost in the WPIAL semifinals each of the last two years, with last year's setback ending the Blue Devils' season much like the Colonials saw their campaign end in last year's District 1 title game.
By the time PW and Mt. Lebanon actually take the floor in Hershey, eight days will have passed since their respective semifinal wins. If ever a team needed some time off, it was the Colonials.
Nearly every player who saw time in the semifinal game against Cedar Cliff left the court either sporting a new cut, a bag of ice or both. PW junior Erin Daley noted her team was a little beat up, but the fiery defensive stalwart also said the fact her teammates have continually been there to pick her up and she them has kept PW moving forward.
"Knowing when we fall down, our teammates will be right there to pick us up and vice-versa, if my teammate goes down, I'll be there and if I go down, my teammate will be there," Daley said. "I know all my teammates will give the same amount of aggression I will, the same amount of heart, the same hard work. We all love playing together so much that we know what that level of heart, speed and aggression is if we want to stop teams on the defensive end."
Plymouth Whitemarsh seniors (L to R) Fiona Gooneratne, Jordyn Thomas, Lainey Allen and Kaitlyn Flanagan celebrate their final win on their home court. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
PW is optimistic senior Jordyn Thomas will return after missing the previous two games with a non-COVID illness to make their starting lineup whole again. Adding the 6-foot-1 Thomas back to a frontline already featuring the 6-foot Daley and 6-foot-2 Lainey Allen gives PW a trio of excellent defenders that also play off each other well offensively. If she can't go, the Colonials will just turn to super-sub Fiona Gooneratne again, with the senior guard having proven invaluable time and time again this season.
While it's easy to see 33-0 and think it's been a cakewalk all season, the Colonials have faced plenty of challenges. Junior Abby Sharpe knows that better than anyone, having been forced to sit out three games around the holiday break but saw her teammates pick up the slack, which has driven her to do the same in the midst of a stellar postseason run.
"When one person's down, the next person is going to step up a little bit more," Sharpe said. "That comes from the confidence we all have in each other."
The job of navigating Mt. Lebanon's rigid defense will fall to Colonials senior Kaitlyn Flanagan. The point guard and Holy Cross commit has been next-level in the postseason and has kicked up her scoring average in the last two games while also stringing passes out to teammates and playing lockdown defense.
"A lot of coaches and people in the know just know how talented she is," Dougherty said. "If she's not a first team all-state kid, I don't know who's beating her out for that. You don't have to score 20 points per game to win a game, she can, but she just dominates the game as a point guard. If you overplay her, it's 'I'll dish to Lainey' or 'I'll dish to Abby,' it's been fun to watch."
There's one game left to play. Both teams involved have done plenty of winning this season, but only one gets to walk out with the final victory of the season.
"That's been the goal," Flanagan said. "We would have been proud however far we came, but there would have been disappointment not coming this far."