By BRAD SPAHR
LITITZ - They put together an incredible season, one in which many programs dream of, and future county teams will have a tough time topping. Along the way all kinds of school history was made. They won 26 games, won a second consecutive Ches-Mont title by winning every one of their league games by double-digits. On top of it, they won the first state playoff game in school history to start what turned out to be a magical journey over the course of the last two weeks.
Despite all that success, it was easy to see the pain in the eyes of the West Chester Rustin High School girls basketball, and how heartbroken they truly were on Tuesday night after falling to Cumberland Valley, 61-45, in their semifinal round PIAA Class AAAA playoff game at Warwick High School.
That's the round of the tournament where it hurts more than any other to lose.
For West Chester Rustin (26-7 overall) their season came to an end one game sooner than they had hoped. Across the way they had to watch the celebration of Cumberland Valley (27-5), the same one they were hoping to have, as the Eagles clinched a berth in the state championship game for the second straight year.
Cumberland Valley will get a rematch in the PIAA Class AAAA final on Friday at 6 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey. Spring-Ford won it all last winter, 60-45. The District 1 Rams earned a shot to defend their crown by downing North Allegheny, 47-32, in Tuesday night's other semifinal.
As the Rustin players filed out of their locker room following a game in which they never led, there were a mixture of tears of disappointment, but also pride in what they had they had accomplished throughout a grueling 4-plus month long season.
"It hurts so much more knowing how close we were to Hershey,' said Golden Knights junior guard Noelle Powell. "At the same time, we're proud of what we've done this season. We had a great year, and we definitely proved a lot of people wrong who thought we'd never get this far.'
Four nights earlier, basically nothing could go wrong for West Chester Rustin as they stunned District 1 champion North Penn, 55-40, to become one of the final four teams in the state.
On Tuesday, however, almost nothing went as scripted.
It started poorly right from the beginning, as Cumberland Valley stormed out to a 10-1 lead before Rustin could even blink.
To their credit, as usual the Golden Knights never stopped fighting. They clawed all the way back to just two-points of the lead, 22-20, at halftime.
But they did too many things wrong and Cumberland Valley made them pay. Rustin committed 22 turnovers and shot a miserable 9-of-22 from the free throw line.
Senior center Adashia Franklyn led Rustin with 12 points. She also grabbed 11 rebounds in what turned out to be her final scholastic game before going on to play for Saint Joseph's next year.
"It hurts to go out this way, so close,' said Franklyn. "But we made our program and school proud, and I love this team and what we accomplished.'
Powell added 10 points, but was only able to net one field goal in the first three quarters against a pesky Eagles defense. Rustin junior guard Casey Warley added eight points, and junior Emily Walls also netted eight points.
"It just wasn't our night,' said Rustin coach Leah Kim. "You can't win a game like this with 22 turnovers. And once you got down like we did, that rim gets smaller and smaller.
"My heart breaks for these girls. As a coach you dread going into that locker room after a game like this — because there just isn't anything you can really say — but there are life lessons you can take out of it.'
Cumberland Valley had four players score in double-digits: Madison Torresin (22 points), Kelly Jekot (11 points), Taylor Sneidman (10 points) and Meghan Rhoades (10 points).
The Eagles completely turned the tide of the game in the third quarter. They were clinging to a 31-26 lead with a minute left.
However, they closed the period with a backbreaking 7-0 run that upped their advantage to a commanding 38-26 going into the fourth. First, Rhoades hit a basket and was fouled. She hit the free-throw to convert the three-point play. Rustin then immediately turned the ball over in its backcourt, and Torresin scored on an easy lay-up. Then Rustin was again turned the ball right over in its end of the floor and Jennifer Falconer pounced for another easy layup.
Cumberland Valley also benefited from going 15-of-18 at the free throw line.
Rustin threw one last gasp effort to get back into the game, cutting the deficit to single digits, 43-34, with 6:08 left on a 3-pointer by Walls.
That would be as close as they would get though.
"We played so much longer than most teams, and so much longer than a lot of people though we would,' said Casey Warley. "It's hard not to be happy about some of the things we did.'
Said Kim, "I told them who proud I was of them. They don't see it now, but this pain will fade eventually and they will be able to look back and realize what they accomplished.'
Cumberland Valley 61
W.C. Rustin 45
CUMBERLAND VALLEY: Falconer 2 0-0 4, Sneidman 3 2-2 10, Torresin 9 3-3 22, Ke. Jekot 2 6-6 11, Rhoades 3 4-5 10, Ka. Jekot 1 0-2 2, Baughman 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 15-18 61.
W.C. RUSTIN: Ca. Warley 3 1-3 8, Powell 2 5-6 10, Franklyn 5 2-9 12, Co. Warley 1 0-2 2, O'Hare 1 1-2 3, Walls 3 0-0 8, Pitts 0 0-0 0, Zavitsky 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 9-22 45.Cumberland Valley 15 7 16 23 — 61
W.C. Rustin 11 9 6 19 — 453-point goals: Sneidman 2, Torresin, Ke. Jekot; Powell, Ca. Warley, Walls 2.