Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
NORRISTOWN —- Archbishop Wood is moving onto the PIAA 5A state semifinal, but their celebration after the final buzzer didn’t match the accomplishment.
Head coach Mike McDonald’s squad casually walked off the court, clapping and smiling, there was no screaming or dancing. Perhaps it’s because Wood is on the precipice of their third straight trip to Hershey or maybe it's because they still feel like they have something to prove.
The departure of Ryanne Allen (Vanderbilt) and Bri Bowne (Delaware), who led Wood to their second straight state title last season, left this current roster with a chip on their shoulder.
“Not a lot of people thought we were gonna be as good as we were last year this year,” junior Ava Renninger said. “I think we are definitely proving a lot of people wrong so it feels good because it's not a good feeling to be doubted but it's a good feeling to prove those people wrong.”
Archbishop Wood senior Deja Evans grabs a rebound Saturday against Bishop Shanahan. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
The play of Renninger and fellow senior Deja Evans got Wood through a strong Bishop Shanahan team in the quarterfinals at Norristown High Saturday afternoon. The Vikings and Eagles battled for three quarters, but the two-time defending state champs gathered themselves and pulled away from Shanahan in the second half, winning 52-39.
Archbishop Wood advanced to the state semifinal where it will meet District 1 champion West Chester Rustin in the state semifinal on Tuesday.
Evans and Renninger stepped up for a Vikings team that struggled early on against a Bishop Shanahan side that won 24 games this year. Evans posted an 18-point, 18-rebound (four offensive) double-double while Renninger added 13 points herself.
“I thought our energy was a little flat today,” McDonald added. “Coming out we didn’t defend as well as we have in the past. We didn’t execute a game plan as well as we should’ve today. We were just letting them get to their strong hand and go to the basket. I don’t know what the reasoning was. We just kept overplaying their left hand and allowing them to go back to their right hand and they were getting layups and finishing.
“I thought (Alyssa Brown) on their team had a really nice game shooting the ball too, so they hit a lot of tough shots but our defense was just a step slow, our execution was OK.”
The senior guard Brown finished with 16 points and got to her spots often, but the rims were not doing her any favors.
“We had a lot of stuff that looked like it was going in but it came out,” Shanahan coach Jim Powers said. “Thought we got looks but couldn’t cash in. If we would've, maybe things would’ve been different.”
Shanahan’s Samantha Blumenthal performed well against the 6-foot-2 Albany commit, Evans. The junior recorded 10 points and eight rebounds and got the shot blocker Evans off her feet a couple of times with her post footwork.
Archbishop Wood's Ava Renninger, right, drives on Bishop Shanahan's Faith Ambrose. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Archbishop Wood led 22-19 at halftime and Shanahan continued battling in the third quarter, wanting to avoid elimination from a Catholic League squad for the second year in a row after losing to eventual PIAA 5A state champions Cardinal O’Hara last season in the first round.
Blumenthal and Evans matched one another bucket for bucket in third quarter as each scored six points for their teams, but Evans adapted her defensive approach and limited Blumenthal to two field goal attempts in the fourth quarter and recorded two of her four blocks in the second half.
“We were able to come out with more energy than the first half,” Evans said. “We were able to share the ball as a team and picked up our defense.”
Once Evans found her groove, Archbishop Wood as a whole followed in the second half. The Vikings rotated on defense, crashed the boards, and outscored Bishop Shanahan 30-20 and shot 12-of-22 from the field as a team.
“We had a hard time handling number 11,” Powers said about Evans. “It was a big mismatch for us. I thought our girls fought her, I thought Sammy did a fantastic job playing her, whether it was defending her or offensively, but she’s just a good player, and big, and it was tough.”
“We needed it,” McDonald said. “We couldn’t get a lot going and we needed the double-double, She got it going. She’s taller than a lot of people which helps, but she’s skilled. She’s a special player who is only scratching the surface.”
Powers was proud of his Shanahan squad for all they accomplished this season, but he was upset about losing this class of seniors, who were freshmen when he first took the job four years ago and have won 40 games the past two seasons.
“They’re special,” he said. “I told them when I start next year it's gonna be hard because I'll be looking at some new faces. But I’m proud of what they accomplished. They deserved to be here and they won 24 games this year, it's a good season for them.
“I know they don’t know it now but they’ll reflect on it and realize what they accomplished.”
On the other hand, McDonald wasn’t satisfied with Wood’s performance and knows that if they come out flat again, the Vikings won’t make their third straight trip to Hershey and hopefully secure their third straight title, and their first in the 5A classification.
“Our focus needs to be better going into the next game,” he said. “We’re not just happy to get into the state semifinal. We want to win the whole thing. So right now we’re happy we survived today and moved on, but we want to get better and be a better team come Tuesday.
“Many people out there don’t get this chance so very excited that they get to keep going.”
Evans and Renninger have only been around at Wood for one championship while seniors like Kara Meredith and Delaney Finnegan have two rings under their belt.
“But we definitely feel all the energy that they feel getting a three-peat,” Rennigner said. “So we want to help get that three-peat for all of them and [the] two-peat for me and Deja.”
“We just have to stay focused and come out with a lot more energy in (the next) game and be able to defend well,” Evans added. “Because (West Chester Rustin) is a good team.”
Bishop Shanahan: 9 | 10 | 10 | 10 || 39
Archbishop Wood: 9 | 13 | 16 | 14 || 52
Bishop Shanahan: Alyssa Brown 16, Samantha Blumenthal 10, Faith Ambrose 5, Alexa Bojko 5, Abigail Wolfe
Archbishop Wood: Deja Evans 18, Ava Renninger 13, Kara Meredith 11, Delaney Finnegan 6, Emily Knouse 4
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