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Central League Playoffs: Haverford, Conestoga girls advance for title game rematch

02/11/2024, 12:00am EST
By Andrew Robinson + Joseph Santoliquito

Haverford takes care of business against Penncrest

By Joseph Santoliquito

HAVERFORD, PA — Each shot used to be an adventure. The intention was for the ball to go through the hoop. Though when it left Aniya Eberhart’s fingertips, it would often bounce off the backboard or clang off the rim. It rarely found the bottom of the net.

That’s when the Haverford High School 5-foot-10 senior played center in grade school. Over the last few years, especially this season, Eberhart has found a shooting touch, and she continues to demonstrate it.

On Saturday night, the Millersville-bound guard scored a game-high 16, nine in the game-turning second quarter, to lead the Fords to a 52-32 victory over Penncrest in the girl’s Central League tournament semifinals.

Haverford senior Aniya Eberhart scored 16 points in Saturday's win over Penncrest. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

The Haverford victory sets up a championship rematch with Conestoga, winners over Garnet Valley in the other semifinal, on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Marple Newtown in a girls-boys championship doubleheader.

Haverford (20-3) split with the Pioneers during the regular season and entered the league semifinal as the No. 4 seed in PIAA District 1 Class 6A ratings, two places behind Conestoga.

The Fords are the defending league champions. The 2023 team won the league title for the first time since 2012. Being the defending league champions means something to this team, and it is something they do not want to let go.

“I don’t think many people expected us to be back from outside our bubble,” Fords’ seventh-year coach Lauren Pellicane said. “That doesn’t matter. Our kids continue to believe in themselves and each other. This means something for this team to defend the title. All of these kids were on last year’s team. They played different roles, but they all know what it took to get there.

“These kids have worked for this moment.”

Eberhart and junior 6-2 wing Rian Dotsey have led the way, with considerable contributions from 5-2 junior guard Meg Kelly, senior forward Ashley Wright and junior wing Natalie Wright (unrelated).

The Fords played perhaps their best quarter of the season in the second stanza against Penncrest, opening what had been a close game into a blowout on amazing 10-of-12 shooting, with Eberhart nailing four of five, including a trey, and having her one miss rattle in and out.

Her shooting prowess continues to evolve—and has become a very integral part of the Fords’ offense.

“I wasn’t a shooter growing up,” Eberhart admitted. “I used to hit the backboard on free throws. It was constant work in the gym with my dad (Jeff) and my teammates and a shooting coach. I learned how to shoot and get my form together. I was able to shoot. I just have a bigger role being a shot maker.

“I gained more confidence in my shot. I wasn’t afraid to shoot. I have to shoot more to help us win. My threes weren’t really good in the beginning of the season, but they are falling now with more work. I didn’t always have confidence in my shot. I have now. There is more importance to my shot making.

“There is meaning behind us being the league champions. People looked past us.”

Kelly has been a nice boost. The tiny guard plays with verve, and she says she is ready for the championship game.

“I’m a lot more relaxed than I was a month ago, we’re all used to playing with each other now,” Kelly said. “I watched the championship game from the bench last year. I’m going to be in the middle of it now, which is kind of crazy. I didn’t expect this. I’m ready to deal with it. I just have to stay calm.”

Like Haverford did in the second quarter on Saturday night, opening up what was a 14-10 lead to start the quarter to bursting out to two 19-point leads (34-15 and 36-17) by the end of the quarter on 10 of 12 shooting. Eberhart had nine of the Fords’ 22 points in the quarter.

Penncrest (15-8) never got within double-digits again, despite a strong performance from senior center Kathryn Harding, a Temple lacrosse commit who dropped a team-high 15 points.

“Our girls played well, (Haverford) just made shots,” Lions’ coach Larry Johnson said. “The last game we played them, we challenged them and we tried to do a good job on Eberhart and Dotsey, and they stepped forward. It’s why they’re going to play college basketball.

“Eberhart is spectacular. Right now, we’re still alive (entering the night at No. 19 in District 1 Class 6A). Hopefully, we can make some noise.”

By Quarter

Penncrest (15-8):  10 | 7 |  8  | 7  ||  32

Haverford High School (20-3):  14 | 22 |  8 |  8 ||  52


Penncrest: Kathryn Harding 15, Emily Huggins 9, Bailey Garrison 8.

Haverford: Aniya Eberhart 16, Rian Dotsey 13, Ashley Wright 9, Megan Kelly 7, Natalie Wright 5, Tess Durfee 2.



Conestoga avenges loss to Garnet Valley

By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

BERWYN — Ryann Jennings couldn’t remember ever having a game like the one she’d had Saturday.

The Conestoga sophomore gets to the foul line a fair amount, but she couldn’t recall ever taking twice as many free throws as she did field goal attempts in her career. That’s what played out as the No. 2 seed Pioneers hosted No. 3 Garnet Valley in the Central League semis, Jennings getting plenty of trips to the line and cashing on almost all of them.

Conestoga’s free throw shooting and its defense helped avenge a loss to the Jaguars and book a second straight trip to the Central League final with a 51-31 win.

“We played them Tuesday, I knew it was going to be another physical game, so I just had to be mentally tough and physically tough,” Jennings said. “If I wanted to score, I needed to toughen up and go to the basket hard and when I did, I’d get foul calls. That was a huge part of my game today.”
Jennings drew at least nine fouls on Saturday, eight on the offensive end and one taking a charge, the sophomore going 14-of-15 from the foul line and 2-of-6 from the floor for her 18 points. 

As a team, Conestoga shot 27-of-35 from the line

“You can’t go up thinking you’re going to get fouled, you have to be prepared to lay it in,” Jenning said. “If I get fouled, then I go to the line and have to knock down two.”

Conestoga sophomore scored 18 points in Saturday's win over Garnet Valley. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)

After Garnet Valley defeated Conestoga on Tuesday in the final game of the regular season, Pioneers coach AJ Thompson wanted to make a change defensively. They didn’t have a lot of time to do it, but the Pioneers installed a new defensive plan by Saturday and then went out and executed it.

The plan’s success hinged on seniors Katrina and Isabella Valencia.

“We took Bella and Katrina and had them as rovers in the back, just helping with ball screens and dribble-drives,” Thompson said. “I thought all five were fantastic, they all picked it up, they executed something that was a little bit on the weird side. It was something where you could tell they were focused the last two days.”

Thompson admitted it was a bit of a gamble, the Valencias would be playing off some shooters and the Jaguars can certainly shoot, but he trusted the seniors to play it right.

“That’s why we picked Bella and Katrina,” Thompson said. “They both have a high basketball IQ and are able to read when to go, when not to go, when to sag back. They were both really great, I trust them to run something like that and make the right decisions.”

An Emily Olsen three put GV up 14-12 with 6:34 left in the second. Conestoga responded with the next nine points, six of them coming from Maggie Neary off the bench, that gave the hosts the lead for the rest of the game.

Olsen converted an and-one on the opening possession of the third quarter, clipping the Pioneers’ 21-16 halftime lead to two and Garnet Valley would again cut it to two with 4:58 left in the third.

Jennings came back with an and-one off an assist by Marisa Francione, kicking off a 9-0 run to end the quarter. 

“I just go up and shoot it,” Jennings said. “When you think about it, that’s when you get in your head. Anytime I go to the line, I’m just going there to shoot two.”

On top of her offensive efforts, Jennings was also tasked with guarding Garnet Valley junior Haylie Adamski. Adamski rolled her ankle midway through the third and missed a few minutes before ultimately returning but couldn’t seem to find a rhythm offensively and finished scoreless.

“I was excited to guard her, I knew I had to put a lot of effort in,” Jennings said. “Whoever I’m guarding, I really try to lock it down, play hard defense and not let them score.”

Conestoga will face Haverford in a rematch of last year’s title game that was won by the Fords. The teams split their regular season meetings this year.

“The loss to Garnet Valley on Tuesday was tough but at the same time, it was also an eye-opener and motivating factor,” Thompson said. “We lost in the championship last year and the first thing we said afterward was remember this feeling, because we want to get back here. We wanted another chance at this, Tuesday was an eye-opener for us and we locked back in and got ready to go do what we wanted to do.”

By Quarter

CONESTOGA 10 | 11 | 12 | 18 || 51

GARNET VALLEY 9 | 7 | 6 | 9 || 31


C: Ryann Jennings 18, Janie Preston 8, Isabella Valencia 7, Maggie Neary 6, Marisa Francione 6, Katrina Valencia 6

GV: Addie Adamski 10, Emily Olsen 10, Savannah Saunders 6, Kylie Mulholland 3, Katie Dwyer 2.

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