Monday, February 18, 2013

Big playoff win for J-M girls, too

Tuesday's for-print story focuses on the West Greene girls basketball team and the fact that the Pioneers have won playoff games in back-to-back seasons, a rarity around here believe it or not.

But equally as impressive -- and surprising -- was Jefferson-Morgan's 29-25 victory over Eden Christian in the WPIAL Class A preliminary round Saturday.

Nobody at the school was able to confirm the date of Jefferson-Morgan's last playoff victory in girls basketball, but it's safe to say there hasn't been a lot of them, especially not recently.

When head coach Ellen Hildebrand was hired four years ago, the members of this year's senior class were freshman ... and Hildebrand was the Rockets' fourth coach in the past four years.

"We were kind of slow to get started, but I have a great group of kids who want to be good basketball players," Hildebrand said. "They work hard to make this program a success. I feel like they're really peaking and coming together at the right time."

Center Katie Shaffer and point guard Ashley Faddis are the team's two seniors, and both are in the starting lineup. Hildebrand also starts three freshmen: small forward Ally Bogden, guard Kayla Yorko and forward Rachel Hildebrand.

No wonder the Rockets (10-13) were up and down at the end of the year, losing three in a row, then beating Carmichaels, then dropping what was thought to be a win-and-get-in game at West Greene on the final night of the regular season.

"We can be inconsistent," Hildebrand said.

To be fair, that was J-M's third game in four nights. And like all teams in Section 3-A, the Rockets' roster isn't big, the rotation tight. Plus, having so many young players ... well, you're bound to have some peaks and valleys.

"It's hard to articulate the intangibles that your seniors just know from being there," Hildebrand said. "I think of the progress that these two seniors have made since they were freshmen and what they weren't able to do as freshmen."

Yorko leads Jefferson-Morgan at 10.8 points per game, while Bogden is contributing 10.3 per game. Both have been among our scoring leaders all season.

Against Eden Christian, Yorko and Shaffer had eight points apiece, but where the Rockets really made a difference was with their defense -- a 2-3, matchup zone that Hildenbrand used for awhile then switched to man. Then back again.

"I think that was giving them some trouble," Hildebrand said. "If they got into a little bit of a rhythm, we'd switch to man. It would take them a little bit longer to figure out whether it was zone or man, then we'd switch back. We kept making them have to adjust."

Hard to argue with the results, considering Jefferson-Morgan, which trailed by four at halftime, held Eden Christian to just two points in the third quarter, six in the fourth.

Like West Greene, the Rockets' matchup isn't pretty, with second-seeded Serra Catholic looming. But both teams should be proud of what they've accomplished. Who would have thought Avella, Carmichaels and California would all be done, West Greene and Jefferson-Morgan still playing?

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