YORK, Pa. – The York College women's basketball (14-12, 11-6 CAC) defeated the visiting Seahawks from St. Mary's College of Maryland (11-14, 7-10 CAC) by a score of 74-61, advancing them to the second round of the 2011 Capital Athletic Conference Tournament.
Led by the standout play of Aja Wallpher and Kelsey Murphy, the Green and White's dynamic freshmen duo, York ensured it's season would stay alive to take on the conference's number two team, Marymount (13-9, 11-5 CAC).
"We just knew we had to do it [tonight]," stated Murphy. "It was go time."
Right from the game's beginning tip both squads put forth evenly-matched offensive units that kept the game tight for the entire first half of play, however it was the stingy Spartan defense that was able to keep the Seahawks at bay. After winning the tip-off to start the contest, St. Mary's brought the ball into their zone on their first possession only to have it taken away by freshman forward Brittany Hicks and sent back up the court. Additionally, with the teams combining for three fouls before the game's first points it was evident that this was going to be a game exemplified by its physicality.
Soon after Hicks knocked down two shots from the charity stripe, Wallpher executed a stellar drive through the paint to convert the first field goal of the game and put York up 4-0 with 17:18 remaining. Although it was not long before the Seahawks answered back and soon tied the score at six on Raven Owen's layup, not allowing the Spartans' size advantage to intimidate their visibly smaller squad.
Cue the spot-on sharpshooter Murphy, who drained the first of five threes she would make on the night from well beyond the arc as the shot clock expired to put the Green and White up five with 13:49 left to play in the first half.
"I had great passes from Aja," stated Murphy. "The screens that were set were just ridiculous. It's easy to hit shots [that way]."
After Murphy drilled her second triple to put the Spartans ahead by five, St. Mary's began to implement a full-court press that York would pick apart with a textbook, no-dribble fast-break that ended with a short-range jump shot from freshman forward Kristen Haley.
Both teams would continue to play solid basketball for the remainder of the first half, which concluded with the Green and White heading into the locker room leading 33-27. Coach Betsy Witman knew that if her players continued with the game plan of "containing, contesting and boxing-out," they would be in a great position extend their six-point advantage in the second half.
The second half opened up with a wide-open Murphy hitting her fourth three-pointer of the night off a catch-and-shoot in-bounds pass that put York up by nine, 36-27. However, St. Mary's would once again climb back to within seven after hitting two foul shots stemming from an emphatic foul by senior forward Jamie Sapp with 17:34 remaining. Wallpher, who quietly accounted for three assists in the first, would ensure that this was the closest that the Seahawks came to mounting a comeback for the remainder of the game.
Wallpher began dishing out crisp passes to set up teammates with easily executable shots, highlighted by her eighth assist that came as she was falling out of bounds yet somehow threw a flawless strike to Murphy waiting in three-point land. Naturally, Murphy connected to give the Spartans a 61-43 lead with 7:56 to go.
"It's always in the back of my mind that Kelsey has a hot hand," said Wallpher. "I always try to draw the defenders and dish it out."
From there on, Wallpher stole the show as she delivered her personal-best ninth assist on the next possession to senior Gayle Exley for a trouble-free jumper. With only 2:27 remaining, Wallpher would end the night with one final assist after going coast-to-coast set up Sapp with a layup for a career-best twelfth assist.
The four freshmen starters did extremely well for their first collegiate playoff game, as the group combined for 50 points, 22 rebounds and seven steals.
"It is awesome to see and awesome to be a part of," stated Sapp. "We don't see it as eight freshman and upperclassmen [though], we see it as one team."
Although the modest Sapp will not accept, she unquestionably deserves a great deal of credit for uniting a team through her mentoring and leadership. She, and the rest of the Green and White, is simply looking forward to having an all-important practice tomorrow before their next game.
"We are going to have a huge defensive focus on grabbing boards," says Witman. "But we have gone down there and beaten them before, and now we're playing even better."
Clearly York is definitely hitting their stride at the right time, and sport overwhelming confidence heading into the tournament's second round. The Green and White are slated to travel to Marymount on Thursday, February 24, for a 7:00 pm tip.
Photo: Aja Wallpher drives into the lane against St. Mary's (Md.) defense during York's CAC first round 74-61 triumph. Courtesy of Zach Clabaugh - www.sharpedgefoto.com
Game story written by Matt Pucci - York College Athletic Communications contributing writer