By ANDY EDWARDS
WESTTOWN -- It’s hard to imagine a program with no history of postseason success feeling disrespected by a No. 12 seed and a first-round home game in the district playoffs.
But coming into Friday’s clash with Bishop Shanahan fresh off a Ches-Mont championship and undefeated in 2013, that’s exactly how the West Chester Rustin girls basketball team felt.
Ultimately, the perceived slight was all too real to the Golden Knights, who used it as motivation to make some history of their own.
Noelle Powell poured in a game-high 25 points, making 15 of 17 free throws and leading three Golden Knights in double figures as Rustin (19-5) pulled away from a game Shanahan squad to post a 65-47 victory on its home court in the first round of the District One Class AAAA tournament. The win was the 17th in a row for Rustin, and more importantly the first girls district playoff victory in school history. Emily Walls came off the bench to score 11 crucial points and Anna Steinmetz chipped in 10 for the Golden Knights, who are just a win away from their first PIAA playoff berth after setting up a second-round date with either No. 5 Methacton or No. 28 Council Rock North next Wednesday.
"We’re a lot better than they made us out to be," said Walls, who added four rebounds and a steal in one of her best performances of the season. "I feel like it made us more motivated to come out stronger than we’ve always been and finish out the game, definitely."
Christine Lawrence impressed with a team-high 18 points for the Eagles (14-8), who came out firing and led 17-14 after the first quarter thanks to Jordan Ogden, who scored eight of her 14 points in the opening period. But Powell ignited a 14-2 run to start the second quarter, scoring a pair of buckets and assisting on two others to help the Golden Knights take command. Shanahan, which also received 11 points and nine rebounds from Rachel Parker, pulled to within 43-35 on a free throw by Lawrence in the first minute of the fourth before Rustin scored the next 13 points, six of them by Powell, to put a bow on its historic victory.
"The girls definitely came to play tonight," Shanahan head coach Mary Anne Keenan said. "They played from start to finish, and they executed our game plan. Rustin is a good team. Actually, they’re a great team. They have shooters, they have defensive players. They have a lot."
On this night, the Ches-Mont champions simply had too much. Adashia Franklyn finished with nine points and nine rebounds, Casey Warley added seven points and seven rebounds of her own, and Powell was there every step of the way, delivering four assists and four steals in a dominant floor game that kept the Eagles at arm’s length all night. The Golden Knights’ star guard scored 13 points in the fourth quarter as Shanahan attempted to make a run, calmly sinking free throw after free throw and running Rustin’s offense to perfection.
"We’re definitely learning how to play with each other and where each other wants the ball," Powell said. "We really are excited for the future, and we think we can go pretty far. We’re excited."
No one more so than Walls. Not normally known for her scoring, Walls gave the Golden Knights a big lift in the first half, scoring seven points in the second quarter as Rustin started to make its move. The sophomore buried a deep three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer to give Rustin a 35-24 lead at intermission, then scored back-to-back baskets to restore some order after Lawrence pulled the Eagles to within eight early in the final period.
"I’m feeling awesome," Walls said. "It was definitely a team win. We came out a little rough in the beginning, but I think towards the end we fought for it...We still stuck together as a team and pulled out the win.
"Normally I’m not a top scorer or anything. I guess I was kind of feeling it today."
"It was a huge lift," first-year Rustin head coach Leah Kim said of Walls’ performance. "I knew she had potential in her. It was just an issue of when she had to step up and concentrate and play. If we can get that out of her every night, it makes us an even tougher team."
Whether or not they do, the Golden Knights figure to be a tough out for the remainder of the district playoffs. Rustin hasn’t lost since a 54-38 setback at the hands of Perkiomen Valley on Dec. 27, and the first-time league champions are playing as well as anybody. With plenty of talent on their young roster, the Golden Knights just needed a strong presence to guide the ship. They found it in Kim, who stepped in for Colette Dugan and has scripted a historic season in no time.
"I did not make the history," Kim said. "The girls made the history. They come in and they want to work, and they’re determined kids. I’m excited for them that they did get that opportunity and they did achieve that goal, but we’re not done. We’re not really satisfied with that...We’d like to make a little run here."
The chance comes Wednesday. With another victory, which may have to come on the road against fifth-seeded Methacton, the Golden Knights can rewrite the history books once more.
"It’s huge," Kim said of being on the doorstep of states. "I would encourage everybody to come out. I think we’ll be ready."
W.C. Rustin 65, Bishop Shanahan 47
BISHOP SHANAHAN: Briglia 0 0-0 0, Lawrence 6 3-3 18, Cusick 1 0-0 2, Ogden 6 2-3 14, Wirshup 1 0-0 2, Clark 0 0-0 0, Dreiling 0 0-0 0, Habbel 0 0-1 0, Julianna 0 0-0 0, Parker 4 3-5 11. Totals 18 8-12 47.
W.C. RUSTIN: Warley 2 2-4 7, Walls 4 2-2 11, Steinmetz 4 0-0 10, Hoy 0 0-0 0, Powell 5 15-17 25, O’Hare 1 0-0 2, Franklyn 3 4-5 9. Totals 19 23-28 65.
Bishop Shanahan 17 7 10 13 -- 47
W.C. Rustin 14 21 8 22 -- 65
3-point goals: Lawrence 3, Walls, Steinmetz 2.