HERSHEY - Mission accomplished.
Spring-Ford’s girls basketball team, a neat blend of veteran experience plus competent youth, achieved its goal and fulfilled its dream Friday night at the Giant Center here.
The Rams used their patented pressure defense as the foundation for a 60-45 victory over Cumberland Valley to capture the PIAA Class AAAA state championship.
Three players each scored 11 points for Spring-Ford (32-2), which climaxed the 2012-13 campaign by netting the triple crown of a Pioneer Athletic Conference, District 1 and state championship. Guards Sammi Haas, Sammy Stipa and Brittany Moore each scored 11 points for the Rams, who broke open a tight game by outscoring the Eagles 16-6 during the third period.
“Never in a million years did I think we could do this,” said Haas, one of five seniors who helped lead the squad. “Years ago I didn’t even know they had a state championship for girls basketball.
“When the team with Allie Kakareka and them won the PAC-10 championship, we thought that was amazing. Then we got districts (last two years) and now this. It is awesome. There are no words to describe it.”
Haas shot 3-for-5 from downtown with one trey in each of the first three quarters. She finished 4-for-7 for the evening and also had five assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action plus her usual steady diet of glue-like defense.
Stipa made six steals and handed out six assists to go along with a trey in her 11 points plus three boards in 31 minutes. Moore shot 3-for-5 from long range and came up with five steals, two assists and three rebounds in 27 minutes.
Sarah Payonk finished with eight points, six rebounds, three assists, one blocked shot and one steal in 23 minutes.
The Rams got big production from their bench as Courtney Hinnant turned in six points and eight rebounds (four offensive) in 20 minutes. And sophomore Maggie Locke stood tall with seven points, one trey, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists and one steal in just 17 minutes. Shelby Mueller was whistled for early foul trouble, but she still checked in with six points, three boards, one block and one steal in 14 minutes of action.
“We had a pep rally today and (Chad) Brubaker, the football coach, said how we had a chance to make school history,” said Haas. “It’s really cool. We have been playing travel ball and AAU since we were 8 or 9 years old together.”
“We had to keep our focus at all times,” said Moore. “We had confidence. “We were not really concerned at halftime (27-25 Spring-Ford). We just had to press and pick up the defense. We finally got a lot of tips and steals with our pressure.”
Spring-Ford made a name for itself around the state in a big arena in front of a large crowd.
“It was amazing,” said Moore. “Seriously, it is incredible. I never in my life thought we would get this. We had the opportunity and it just shows how strong we are as a team.”
The Rams said their success as a team has been a tribute to themselves and the coaches, of course, but also for the rest of the school and Spring-Ford community, in general.
Cumberland Valley has a young team with five starting underclassmen, including two freshmen, one sophomore and two juniors. Junior forward Jackie Falconer scored 18 points with five rebounds and 7-for-10 foul shooting, two blocks, two steals and one assists in 31 minutes. Freshman guard Kelly Jekot had 12 points, five boards, six steals, five blocks, three assists and shot 5-for-5 at the free throw line in 27 minutes.
“They (Eagles) are such an outstanding team,” said Spring-Ford coach Jeff Rinehimer. “It was tough to cover their big guys. (Second half) We have to work. They are tall, rangy and handle the ball. We have to dig down deep.
“Our tempo comes at the defensive end. We can’t forget offense, but we score from our defense. At any level you try to disrupt. And the more you go up the levels, it is about putting pressure on every time.”
Rinehimer was asked for an assessment of what a player like Haas brings to the table.
“She hustles and she keeps on going,” said Rinehimer. “She makes up for her mistakes. Sometimes she goes too fast and she has to calm down and bring it back. She has always been there on the field and on the court. She knows what it is.”