ROSS TOWNSHIP – Everything seemed to go wrong for Washington’s girls basketball team on Tuesday night. Layups were missed. Shots fell short or went wide of their mark.
With a trip to the Class AA quarterfinals on the line, the Prexies tried to work from inside and out. It did not matter. Shot after shot clanked off the rim.
Despite holding one of the WPIAL’s leading scorers, Neshannock junior Madison McHale, to just nine points, the result of all of those missed shots was a season-ending loss as the Prexies fell to the Lancers, 34-18, at North Hills High School.
The loss eliminates Wash High (14-9) from the playoffs and ends the high school careers of three seniors. The defeat did not occur without an effort through 32 minutes of basketball. Playing No. 4 Neshannock, the Prexies spent the opening minutes of the contest attempting to find a hole in the Lancers’ man-to-man defense.
Forced passes in the lane resulted in turnovers and when someone was found open for a shot, it did not fall.
“Offensively, we were in a funk,” Washington head coach Mike Maltony said. “It didn’t matter if it was a layup or open jumpers, we couldn’t hit a thing.”
Despite all of that, the Prexies trailed just 5-2 after the first quarter. That’s when McHale took over. The 5-8 junior drove to the lane, executed ball fakes and could not seem to miss in the second quarter as she scored all nine of her points in the eight-minute period. The offensive spurt gave Neshannock a 17-11 halftime advantage.
Neshannock (22-1) expected to face an athletic Wash High team. The Lancers knew they could not run with the Prexies, so they turned to unorthodox strategies. When Maltony called out the play and senior guard India March followed suit, the Lancer players repeated the play call. The goal was to throw Wash High out of rhythm. On a night where nothing worked for the Prexies, the Lancers hoped the slightest distraction could make the difference.
“They were aggressive and definitely faster than us,” McHale said. “We wanted to box out and try to find the open man. We tried everything and it wasn’t a great night for us offensively, either.”
When the second half opened, March hit a pull-up jumper 30 seconds in to draw the Prexies to within six, but the Lancers answered with a 12-1 run over a three-minute span to pull away. The goal for Wash High was to play a solid defensive game, which it did. The Prexies contained McHale, who is averaging over 20 points per game, and outrebounded Neshannock.
While McHale was silent in the second half, Lancers junior guard Tayler Grybowski scored nine second-half points. The difference was shots that did not fall. The result was the Prexies’ worst offensive performance of the season, one they could not afford against the Lancers, who average 57.3 points per game.
“I told the girls at halftime to relax,” Maltony said. “The shots weren’t falling, but the younger players on the team seem to hang their heads when we are trailing like that early in the game. It’s tough getting them back into it.”
The victory puts Neshannock into the quarterfinals, where it will face Bishop Canevin, which defeated Beaver Area Tuesday night to advance.
For Washington, the inevitable but difficult departure of March, who finished with a team-high five points, Andrea Sharp and Mya Gordon was the most difficult aspect of Tuesday night. When a player is potentially playing their last basketball game, emotions spike.
Maltony hates to see the group depart and is forced to prepare for next season earlier than anticipated.
“It’s going to be sad to see them leave,” Maltony said. “(India March) has been a staple for the past four years, Andrea saw solid playing time and we lost Mya to injury early this season, which was difficult for us. I’ll have to find a few more players for next season.”