BOYERTOWN- Most opponents of the Spring-Ford girls basketball team know what's coming when they play the Rams. But knowing it and being able to do something about it are often two different things. That was the case in Saturday afternoon's Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinal at Boyertown High School where Upper Perkiomen knew all about the pressure defense that it would face and had worked hard in practice to find ways to combat it.
But Spring-Ford still forced 15 turnovers in the first quarter and held the Indians scoreless until the final seconds of the period on the way to a 64-18 win. The Liberty Division champion Rams (13-1, 18-5) will face Methacton, a 48-44 winner over Pope John Paul II, in Wednesday's championship game at 7 p.m. at Phoenixville. Frontier Division runner-up Upper Perk (5-9, 8-12) will wrap up the regular season with a non-league contest on Monday with the hopes of earning a District 1 playoff berth.
Shelby Mueller scored 18, Maggie Locke followed with 10 points, and Molly Hynes and Sammy Stipa added nine points apiece for the Rams, who will be trying for their third straight PAC-10 title. Holly Crossin led the Indians with eight points and Morgan Aldinger scored six.
"It's important for us,' Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel said concerning his team's relentless pressure right from the opening tip. "We have to come out and have a great start. We need a great start. Over the last few years, that's the common denominator. We have a lot of good girls who love to play defense.'
"We tried to get them to play our tempo game,' said Mueller. "We want to trap and press and force turnovers.'
The Indians lost the ball five times at the onset before they managed a field goal attempt while the Rams took the lead on a free throw by Locke, a basket inside by Mueller, and two more from the line by Locke. Spring-Ford scored the first 19 points of the day — including seven by Locke and six by Mueller — before Holly Graber scored off an offensive rebound with six seconds left in the quarter.
"We tried hard to prepare for the pressure that we knew was coming,' said Upper Perk coach Pete Sovia, whose team finished with 33 turnovers. "They bring championship pressure, and they certainly brought it at the beginning of the game. We could not simulate it as well (in practice) as they can play it.'
The Indians cut their turnovers to seven in the second quarter while Aldinger hit a pair of 3-pointers and Crossin scored four. But Mueller — who displayed her usual fine shooting touch with 7-for-10 accuracy from the floor and 4-for-4 from the line — scored eight in the quarter and Stipa five for a 40-12 advantage at the half.
To the Indians' credit, they forced six Ram miscues in the opening quarter and 14 on the day.
"We had to play perfect,' said Sovia. "We played them four times in the last two years. That's the best we've played them. They have the athletes and the ability to take anybody out of what they want to do. I think Spring-Ford played extremely well today.'
"We try to push people defensively, and I think we did a really good job of that today,' said McDaniel. "What's important to us is our goal, which is to get better as the season goes along. The score doesn't matter. It's execution that matters.'
And in addition to their obvious good performance on defense, the Rams also did a nice job of sharing the ball on offense as they racked up 14 assists on their 22 baskets.
"I definitely think we're passing really well to each other,' said Mueller. "We're making that extra pass to finish off the play and we're knocking down the shots.'
"We have been working a lot on our ball movement,' McDaniel added. "We've got to continue to work on widening that court vision.'
Last season the Rams won the PIAA-AAAA championship, and Mueller hopes that this was just the beginning of another successful post-season run.
"We're really excited to go on this long journey,' she said. "We think ... we hope ... that we can go as far as last year.'
Upper Perk will finish up with a home game against Palisades.
"Win or lose, we hope to get in district's,' said Sovia. "If we beat Palisades, we might even get a home game.'
On the other hand, Spring-Ford will face Methacton for the third time this season. The Rams won by a 50-40 score on the road in mid-December and dropped a 47-44 home contest to the Warriors in late January, snapping their 41-game winning streak against PAC-10 opponents.
"It was a wake-up call because we got beat,' said McDaniel. "Methacton is a very good team. They beat us. We didn't beat ourselves.'
"Definitely,' said Mueller. "I think we realized we can't take any team lightly. We have to play hard in practice too ... not just the game.'
Locke blocked five shots and grabbed a game-high nine rebounds and Stipa made seven steals and dished out three assists. ... Spring-Ford had a 38-27 advantage in rebounds, including six by Abby Beyer. ... Jessica Spano led the Indians with seven rebounds and Aldinger followed with six. ... The win was the 100th for the Ram seniors — Mueller, Stipa, and Kaity Dougherty — who had broken the school record set by last year's graduates with a non-league win on Thursday against Cumberland Valley. ... The semifinal doubleheader had been moved to Boyertown due to continued weather-related problems in Phoenixville.