Matt Gaffney (@GaffReports)
Every win in the PIAA tournament is a masterpiece. Basketball is judged by the points on the scoreboard, not style points. So if your team is still hooping in March, survive and advance is the name of the game.
West Chester Rustin was most definitely in that mode Saturday as they gutted out a 47-40 win over Bethlehem Catholic in the PIAA 5A quarterfinals. Getting the “dub” was all that mattered especially since the Golden Knights are in uncharted territory for the program.
Rustin’s expedition into deep March basketball will continue as the Golden Knights head to the state semifinals for the first time. It was a tough, hard fought win for Rustin (27-3) and a huge statement for the program against a perennial PIAA contender in Bethlehem Catholic.
The enormity of the moment of being the first Rustin team to reach the state final four was not lost on coach Lauren Stackhouse.
“This group of seniors, this team in general set really big goals early in the season,” Stackhouse said. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew today wasn’t going to be an easy game. We had to fight for every possession, every shot. Obviously I couldn’t be more excited to be here with this group of girls. I feel like they’ve put the time and effort to get to this point.
Ava Panetta (above, in Dec.) played a big role in helping Rustin into the state semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Rustin’s four senior starters – Laine McGurk, Elizabeth McGurk, Lola Flynn and Ava Panetta – were the glue and backbone of the Golden Knights’ effort as they scored 43 of the their team’s 47 points.
Though it may be cliché, senior leadership is often the difference in March. On Saturday, the margin for error was slim for both teams.
At times, watching the Rustin and Bethlehem Catholic battle was like watching mirror images as each team fought to keep their season alive.
Aggressive, full-court press? Check.
Smothering, intense half-court defense? Check.
A fast and furious rotation of plays who attack on offense in a relentless manner? Check.
Never say die attitude? Check.
Golden nickname? Check.
The only difference between the Golden Knights and the Golden Hawks is one (Bethlehem Catholic) is a regular on the state playoff stage in March while the other (Rustin) is a newcomer.
Laine McGurk, the Drexel commit who exploded for 61 points in the first two rounds of state playoffs, struggled to put the ball in the basket on Saturday but still managed to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Elizabeth McGurk matched her twin sister’s scoring output with 14 points of her own, including 8 of 11 from the foul line while adding nine boards.
While the combined 28 points from the McGurk sisters was huge for Rustin, the sparkplug who ignited the Golden Knights was Ava Panetta. The 5-foot senior guard played with a lot of heart and grit throughout the game finishing with 8 points, 7 rebounds and zero turnovers. More impressively, she played the last quarter with four fouls.
Despite being saddled with fouls (which included a technical for being a little too exuberant with the basketball after a teammate drew a charge), she only came out of the game for thirty seconds before returning for the remainder of the contest. Though her high school career was perilously close to ending, Panetta remained aggressive on both ends of the floor.
“I just had to get out of my head,” Panetta said of getting the technical and then her fourth foul a moment later. ”I knew my team needed me and I wanted to finish it out with my girls and get to the semifinals.”
Her coach expects that from Panetta. “That’s just how she plays. That’s the type of player she is,” according to Stackhouse
The Golden Knights defense put the clamps on Bethlehem Catholic in the fourth quarter as they held them to eight points in the final stanza. No one broke double digits in points for the District 11 5A champ Golden Hawks as Akasha Santos and Ella Bincarosky each had a team-high 9 points and Kendra Rigo chipped in with 8 points. Bethlehem Catholic saw its season come to an end with a record of 19-9.
For West Chester Rustin, the dream is still alive. Laine McGurk said that though she and her teammates are very excited, this playoff run was expected.
“We’ve been here since our freshman year. We have a big senior class. We expected this. We expected to go on a deep states run. This was on our checklist, and we just want to keep going.”
Keep going is exactly what the Golden Knights are doing. They will see another March regular in the semifinals on Tuesday in Archbishop Wood with a trip to Hershey on the line.
BECA 15 | 7 | 10 | 8 | 40
WCR 14 | 15 | 6 | 12 | 47
Bethlehem Catholic: Santos 9, Bincarosky 9, Rigo 8, Hernandez 6, Fernandez 5, Colon 2, Nickischer 1
West Chester Rustin: Laine McGurk 14, Elizabeth McGurk 14, Panetta 8, Flynn 7, Stackhouse 3, Barry 1
Tag(s): Home High School Girls HS Ches-Mont (G) Ches-Mont American (G) West Chester Rustin