Spring-Ford girls reach state finals

Photo by Barry Taglieber Spring-Ford's Shelby Mueller (5) lifts Brittany Moore for a hug Tuesday night, and Maggie Locke joins celebration as the Rams advanced to the PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball state championship game by beating Cardinal O'Hara, 53-49.

WARMINSTER - Sammy Stipa scored 17 points, with six free throws in the fourth quarter, Shelby Mueller had 15 rebounds and 10 points and Brittany Moore had 12 points with two treys as Spring-Ford’s girls basketball team advanced to the PIAA Class AAAA state championship game with a frenetic 53-49 victory over Cardinal O’Hara Tuesday night at William Tennent High School.

The two-time District 1 champion Rams will meet Cumberland Valley, the fifth-place seed from District 3 and a 54-39 winner over District 7 runner-up Chartiers Valley, in the state title game Friday evening at 6 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.

The game was knotted at 35 after three quarters and then again at 44 and 47 with 1:10 left in regulation time. Spring-Ford’s Sarah Payonk put the Rams ahead to stay with the seconde of two foul shot attempts at the 57-second mark, and Stipa went 1-for-2 again at the :39 mark to make it 49-47.

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The Lions’ Shanice Johnson (17 points, 13 rebounds) then had a shot miss the mark, and Payonk grabbed ther ebound with 23 seconds showing. That led to two more Stipa free throws with 20 seconds left.

O’Hara’s Lisa Mintzer, a 6-foot-5 senior center, made two foul shots with 11 seconds to go, but Stipa sealed it wwith two more from the charity stripe with 10 seconds left.

“I tried to keep my head the whole time, even though I missed some shots,” said Stipa, a junior point guard who made third team All-State as a sophomore. “Mentally, I had to keep the external forces out and play the game. I couldn’t think about the people in the stands or the refs.”

Stipa shot 6-for-9 at the foul line in the fourth period. That went along with 5-for-13 field goal shooting and one trey in the fourth stanza as well as two steals, two rebounds and one assist.

The 5-5 Stipa was matched against O’Hara star point guard MacKenzie Rule, a 5-6 senior, in a high-quality backcourt matchup.

Rule finished with 10 points with two triples and seven reboounds. Mintzer totaled 12 points, five rebounds and five blocks as each side put three players in double figures. Mintzer had eight of her points and four blocks during the first half, which ended with the Rams in front, 20-16.

Johnson, a 6-1 senior forward, who is headed to the University of Delaware, also contributed four assists, three steals and two blocks to the cause.

“They (Rams) just worked and put their time in,” said Spring-Ford coach Jeff Rinehimer. “That’s all I can say.”

The Rams were denied a trip to the state finals last year by Archbishop Carroll. But after that loss, the Rams went right back to work with 70 AAU games in the summer and then a rigorous Pioneer Athletic Conference schedule and non-league contests, plus tough practices, all leading toward achieving the one monumental goal of a state championship.

“Now at least they have a chance,” said Rinehimer.