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District 1 5A: WC Rustin blitzes Lower Moreland to lock up state berth, semifinal trip

02/21/2024, 12:30am EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

WEST CHESTER — The West Chester Rustin girls basketball program broke a five-year state playoff drought and won its first District 1 championship last season.

While the rest of District 1 might not have known it, fifth-year coach Lauren Stackhouse knew she had a team capable of running things back.

It’s been a different formula without star Laine McGurk (Drexel) and three other starters from the 2022-23 but as the fourth-seeded Golden Knights showed in Tuesday’s District 1-5A quarterfinal win over fifth-seeded Lower Moreland they might still be the team to beat.

Rustin scored the game’s first 14 points on the way to a 61-33 victory, cruising into Friday’s semifinal matchup with ninth-seeded Bishop Shanahan, a 47-44 winner over Gwynedd Mercy

“We basically said obviously we don’t have quote unquote the talent that we had last year, but we’re a better team together,” said Rustin senior Riley Stackhouse, Lauren’s daughter and the lone starter back. “We’re jelling together, there’s no drama with our team. Everyone’s getting along, and that’s what’s going to carry us through hopefully to the end of March again. But we’ll see.”

West Chester Rustin seniors Riley Stackhouse, left, and Kailey Barry poses together after Tuesday's District 1 5A quarterfinal win over Lower Moreland. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Riley Stackhouse scored 24 points for Rustin, including seven of the first nine points of the game. A triple by sophomore Jenna Kraft followed by a bucket by senior Gia DeMichele made it 14-0 four minutes in before Lower Moreland junior Briana McFerran scored her team’s first points on a putback at the 3:40 mark in the first quarter.

McFerran, who finished with 11 points in the game, and her teammates settled into the game. It was evenly played the rest of the first half as Rustin led 32-18 at the break. The flood gates broke again when Rustin started the second half on a 14-2 Rustin run that included a pair of threes from junior Natalie Cipolloni.

“We’re kind of a team if we start out hot and have the momentum, it’s a lot easier to keep it up without having to start from behind and climb back up,” senior Kailey Barry said. “I think getting the momentum at first really just helps set the tone for the other team to play our speed instead of matching theirs.”

Barry was the sixth man during last season’s run to the district title and state semis. She’s one of six seniors this season. Riley Stackhouse notes Barry is a tone setter for the team at the top of the Golden Knights press.

Her impact was evident Tuesday night as Lower Moreland struggled early with Rustin’s pressure.

“I feel like defense is kind of what gets the ball rolling,” Barry said. “If I start a play, it’s kind of a domino effect for everyone else. By getting a tip here or there, I may not be the one on the scoreboard, but my tip can lead to a score and it keeps the ball rolling and makes our team more confident to keep going.”

Junior forward Sara Betchyk scored 10 points for Rustin and Kraft added another seven. You can go down the lineup and find contributions from a host more like Barry and fellow senior Victoria Puzzangara both taking charges that fired up their teammates.

That’s been a theme of this season as the Golden Knights have set themselves up for plenty of extra basketball once again

“It’s exciting because we have players that want to step up, and we’ve really tried to instill a culture of winning here,” Lauren Stackhouse said. “I feel like the girls expect that, they want that. They expect to be playing this time of year. That’s just a credit to what we’ve tried to create in the last five years, and we’re really fortunate to have kids buy into their role, know exactly what’s expected of them and play hard all the time.”

Freshman Mollie Martin added eight points for Lower Moreland, which has just one senior in Amelia Brown compared to the Golden Knight’s eight. The SOL Freedom Division champions last went to the PIAA playoffs in 2019 at the Class 4A level. The Lions are still just one win away from booking their first state trip but they’ll have to go through top-seeded Gwynedd Mercy after the Monarchs’ upset loss.

Rustin’s path back to the title game goes through a familiar foe. The Golden Knights haven’t played Shanahan this season but the Ches-Mont cross division foes met in the league postseason in 2022 and 2023, including Rustin’s championship game win last season.

“It’ll be fun. It’ll be a battle too,” Riley Stackhouse said. “We know how they play. They know how we play. It’s just going to be a fun game.”

By Quarter

Lower Moreland  8 | 10 | 9 | 7 || 33

WC Rustin  20 | 12 | 18 | 11 || 61


LM: Briana McFerran 11, Mollie Martin 8, Dani Brusha 6, Sydney Santora 6, Alexis MacPhee 2.

WCR: RIley Stackhouse 24, Sarah Betchyk 10, Jenna Kraft 7, Natalia Cipolloni 6, Gia DeMichele 5, Kailey Barry 4, Victoria Puzzangara 4, Claire Rydel 1.


Quarterfinals (Tue., Feb. 20)
9) Bishop Shanahan 47, 1) Gwynedd Mercy 44
4) West Chester Rustin 61, 5) Lower Moreland 33
2) West Chester East 51, 7) Phoenixville 42
6) Villa Maria 53, 3) Radnor 38

Semifinals (Fri., Feb. 23)
4) West Chester Rustin vs. 9) Bishop Shanahan
2) West Chester East vs. 6) Villa Maria


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