|Staff photo by Brad Spahr/Rustin's Adashia Franklyn muscles her way to the basket during Friday's PIAA Class AAAA first-round game.|
By BRAD SPAHR
EAST NORRITON -- For three quarters the West Chester Rustin High School girls basketball team looked like a Lamborghini firing on all cylinders, poised to explode right on past Dover in their first-round PIAA Class AAAA playoff game.
Then suddenly the engine started overheating, and eventually the wheels simply fell off.
The whole thing was both painful and heartbreaking to watch, as the Ches-Mont League champion Golden Knights let a 12-point fourth quarter lead slip away on Friday night and saw their outstanding season come to a close as they were stunned by Dover, 54-53, at Norristown High School.
How bizarre was this game? Well, the Eagles (26-3 overall) found a way to prevail despite going a stretch of 11 minutes without a single field goal, and the fourth-place squad out of District 3 also saw four of its starters foul out of the contest. On top of that, they had no answers whatsoever for Rustin (22-8) standout junior center Adashia Franklyn, who finished with 20 points and 18 rebounds.
Nonetheless, Dover rallied back from the dead by scoring as many points in the final period as the prior three quarters combined and shockingly took their first lead of the night, 52-51, with 7.5 seconds remaining. Junior guard Alayah Hall, who was phenomenal in netting a game-high 22 points, made the big shot for the Eagles with the game on the line. She was also fouled on the play, and converted the ensuing free throw for the traditional three-point play.
Rustin, in disbelief, took a timeout to calm their nerves. However, they then proceeded to turn the ball over while attempting to get it up court trailing by a point. That forced them to immediately foul Dover’s Ashentay Kearse, who calmly buried both shots from the line to up her team’s lead to 54-51 with 5.1 seconds to go.
Rustin, now out of time outs, rushed the ball into the hands of star guard Noelle Powell. She raced up court, but then instead of pulling up for a potential game tying 3-pointer, Powell drove to the basket as the final seconds dwindled off the clock and scored on a layup as time expired. With that final horn, Rustin’s remarkable season was over.
“It was our game, and frankly I don’t have any idea how we lost this one,” said a heartbroken first-year Rustin coach Leah Kim. “It’s coaching. This one is on my shoulders -- not the kids. I assume full responsibility. I should have saved time outs and put the team in a better situation there at the end.
“This really hurts to go out like this. I thought we were definitely the better team here tonight -- no doubt about it.”
It was hard to fault Kim, Powell, or anyone for that matter. Things just kind of snowballed on Rustin in a hurry, and there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot they could do about it in what was a night to forget in an otherwise memorable season. The Golden Knights were outstanding this winter in setting a school record for wins. They also claimed their first Ches-Mont League title, won a district playoff game for the first time, eventually making it all the way to the district semifinals, before going on to earn their first state tournament berth.
They looked like they were going to roll to another first, their first state playoff victory, after storming to a commanding 31-17 halftime lead. Franklyn was terrific in the opening half, scoring 11 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Powell was on top of her game as well, scoring eight points and navigating Dover’s tough full-court pressure. Junior Casey Warley added 10 of her 13 points in the opening half.
“We were playing so well,” said Kim.
The Golden Knights didn’t surrender a field goal in the second quarter as their defense was spectacular. Dover’s first point of the quarter came with 2:34 left in the half on a free throw by Hall, who then later added their second and final point of the period on another free throw with 16.7 seconds left.
“It certainly didn’t look like this was going to be our night,” said Dover coach Troy Lokhaiser. “In the locker room at halftime, though, the girls still believed. They refused to believe that the game was over. We knew we couldn’t buy a basket in the first half, and if we could just get some shots to fall we might be able to make a run.”
Dover finally snapped its field goal drought, that had dated back to the opening quarter, when Megan Lokhaiser netted a basket with 5:42 to go in the third. The Eagles awoke from that point, and pulled to within 39-27 after three periods of play.
Then, it fell apart for Rustin.
Dover really got hot in the fourth quarter, erupting for 27 points in the frame, including four crucial 3-pointers and a perfect 11-of-11 from the line. In a game that featured over 40 total fouls, things started to get real testy late.
Rustin led 50-46 with 40 seconds to play after Franklyn made 1-of-2 free throws. But Dover immediately trimmed it to one, 50-49, on a huge 3-pointer by Brianna Crossan with 30.4 seconds left. After taking a timeout, Rustin nearly threw the ball away but Katie O’Hare saved it from going out of bounds by tossing it to Warley, who was fouled. Warley made 1-of-2 free throws with 17.6 seconds remaining to up the Golden Knights’ lead to 51-49.
That set the stage for Hall’s heroics for Dover. Her clutch old-fashioned 3-point play gave the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish and moved them on to the second round on Tuesday night for a date with Nazareth High School.
“I just wanted to take the ball strong to the basket,” said Hall. “What an amazing feeling. We knew we could come back and win this game.”
The majority of Rustin’s players, meanwhile, left the locker room with tears running down their faces. It was about as tough a loss as you can be dealt. The Golden Knights return all their starters next year, and boy oh boy, will this loss provide plenty of motivation during the offseason.
“I told the girls to keep their heads up,” said Kim. “They had a better year than a lot of people expected them to have.”
Dover 54, W.C. Rustin 53
DOVER: Funk 2 2-3 7, Fowler 2 0-2 4, Lokhaiser 4 0-0 10, Hall 3 15-18 22, Herman 2 0-0 4, Crossan 1 2-2 5, Kearse 0 2-2 2. Totals: 14 21-27 54.
W.C. RUSTIN: Warley 4 5-7 13, Steinmetz 0 0-0 0, Powell 5 4-4 14, O’Hare 2 0-0 4, Franklyn 7 6-15 20, Walls 1 0-2 2, Hoy 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 15-28 53.
Dover 15 2 10 27 -- 54
W.C. Rustin 20 11 8 14 -- 53
3-point goals: Funk, Lokhaiser 2, Hall, Crossan.