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District 1 6A: Spring-Ford girls beat Conestoga, reach third championship game in four years

02/28/2024, 8:55pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

BERWYN — There’s a certain edge that the Spring-Ford girls basketball team plays with that shows itself often when the games matter most. Senior guard Anna Azzara said it’s been there since she and her classmates started winning big games together on travel teams in fourth grade.

The Pioneer Athletic Conference is well aware of the Rams’ indescribable, intangible quality. The rest of District 1 gets an up-close look this time of year annually — and Conestoga was the latest victim churned out by the Spring-Ford postseason machine Wednesday night.

The No. 6 Rams controlled most of the District 1 Class 6A semifinal, dispatching the Pioneers 55-41 to reach Saturday’s district championship against top-seed and division rival Perkiomen Valley at 5 p.m. at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

“Really our effort and attitude,” Azzara said. “We have to be going for 50-50 balls, we have to be running up and down the court. Effort and attitude and just playing as a team really helps us.”

Spring-Ford’s seniors played their 15th district playoff game Wednesday night, winning their 13th. 

Spring-Ford senior Anna Azzara scored a team-high 16 points against Conestoga on Wednesday night to lead the Rams to their third District 1 championship game appearance in four years. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL file)

Wednesday’s win booked the third District 1 title game trip in four seasons for Rams seniors Azzara, Mac Pettinelli and Katie Tiffan, who all played on the 2021 title championship team. They’re the first class in District 1 to accomplish that feat since Spring-Ford appeared in three straight district championships from 2012-14. 

Cheltenham, which reached the title game in four straight years from 1999 to 2002, is the only other program to have a senior group accomplish that feat in the 2000s.

“I definitely think our experience does help us, and tonight was just a great night for us,” Azzara said. “We all worked together, we all played as a team, and we got it done.”

“It’s not just the quality of the player in the senior class, it’s the quality of the person,” Rams coach Mickey McDaniel said. “It’s the character of each one of those, and that’s what has helped so much as we bring this together.”

Azzara led the Rams with 16 points, joined in double figures by junior Kareena Preuss and senior Aaliyah Solliday, who both scored 12. 

Pettinelli added eight points and six assists, while Tiffan scored seven and led the defensive effort on Conestoga sophomore Ryann Jennings, who scored 10 points after coming off back-to-back 20-point outings.

“Just running the court and having a lot of energy, and helping on defense and keeping our girl in front of us,” Tiffan said of the keys. “I think (the balance) has developed later in the second half of the year. It’s really good for us, so we can all contribute on the court.”

Spring-Ford scored the first seven points of the game and led 29-22 at the break. A Preuss put-back at the third-quarter buzzer gave the Rams a 43-28 lead. 

When Solliday canned a triple to push the Spring-Ford lead to 18 less than 20 seconds into the fourth, the mountain became a little too steep for the Pioneers, even with junior Ruth Lanouette (nine points) providing a few sparks. 

Junior forward Janie Preston scored 16 for the Pioneers, who were making their first District 1 semifinal appearance in 45 years.

Spring-Ford senior Katie Tiffan scored seven points against Conestoga. She's one of three seniors on the team to make it to three district title games. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL file)

“They’re good one through five,” Conestoga coach AJ Thompson said of Spring-Ford. “Whoever they put on the floor, they’re solid. They can shoot the 3. They can get you off the bounce. They’re just fundamentally really good, they’re well coached. 

“We knew it was going to be a tough battle for us. We didn’t shoot it particularly well from the outside, so that doesn’t help us at all. I think if we shot our normal percentage we could have at least been in it more and not try to always come back.”

After falling behind against Upper Dublin in the quarterfinal round, Spring-Ford held the Cardinals to a combined seven points in the second and third quarter to take control of the game. 

The Rams were championship level on that end again — another staple of this senior group — Wednesday night, particularly in the third when they held the Pioneers to just six points to go up double digits.

“Those two quarters at Upper Dublin in the middle where we turned that game, and then tonight our defense, I thought was tremendous,” McDaniel said. “And our offense stayed so patient.”

Conestoga’s senior group doesn’t have the same type of postseason experience as the Rams, but they broke an eight-year state playoff drought last season and still have eyes on making noise in the PIAA tournament.

They’ll face North Penn in the third-place game for state seeding before going for their first PIAA win since 2016.

“We got some steals, and we missed a few layups where we could have cut it to single digits and put a little bit of pressure on them,” Thompson said. “I’m proud of our kids. They worked hard. They played hard and we’ve still got more games, so it’s not the end of the world.”

The Rams seniors will walk into the Liacouras Center on Saturday looking to add a second District 1 title to their résumés, which would make them the first to do that since Spring-Ford went back to back in 2012 and 2013.

Standing in their way is defending champion Perkiomen Valley, the only reason the Rams don’t have four straight title game appearances as the Vikings knocked them off in the district semifinals a season ago. They also beat Spring-Ford in back-to-back PAC championship games.

McDaniel knows he has a special group who will come ready for the challenge.

“You can’t understate the way they approach and their approach to each day to be successful,” McDaniel said. “That comes back to the character and quality of those players. They’re rooting for each other and playing as one.”

By Quarter

Spring-Ford: 11 | 18 | 14 | 12 || 55

Conestoga: 8 | 14 | 6 | 13 || 41


Spring-Ford: Anna Azzara 16, Kareena Preuss 12, Aaliyah Solliday 12, Katie Tiffan 7, Mac Pettinelli 8

Conestoga: Janie Preston 16, Ryann Jennings 11, Ruth Lanuouette 9, Marisa Francione 5.

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