Senior guard Sammy Stipa, left, and the Spring-Ford girls basketball team begins its defense of the PIAA title Friday night when the reigning champions
Senior guard Sammy Stipa, left, and the Spring-Ford girls basketball team begins its defense of the PIAA title Friday night when the reigning champions meet District 3â s Red Lion in their tournament opener at Coatesville (7:30 p.m.). Also qualifying for states, Methacton and Jackie Cerchio, right, meet District 3 champion Wilson tonight at Garden Spot (6 p.m.). (Kevin Hoffman/ The Mercury)

Spring-Ford's girls basketball team is seeking a bounce-back victory to successfully open defense of its PIAA Class AAAA title.

Methacton, meanwhile, will face the squad a lot of folks consider the morning-line favorite for this year's state tournament.

After a week-long layoff following the District 1 Tournament, the Rams and Warriors both return to the court Friday as the PIAA version of "March Madness' gets underway with opening-round games.

Pioneer Athletic Conference champion Spring-Ford (23-6), coming off last Friday's 63-51 District 1-AAAA championship loss to North Penn, faces District 3 No. 5 seed Red Lion (17-9) at Coatesville at 7:30 p.m.

PAC-10 runner-up Methacton (20-9), the District 1 No. 10 seed, takes on Berks League and District 3 champion Wilson (22-7) — which is on a 16-game winning streak that includes a 17-point takedown of Spring-Ford Jan. 18 — at Garden Spot at 6 p.m.

Tonight's winners advance to Tuesday's Round of 16, while the losers will pack up their gear for the season.

Spring-Ford, under first-year head coach Mickey McDaniel, will be making its third straight PIAA appearance. The Rams have gone 8-1 in state tourney play over the past two years.

Senior guard Sammy Stipa, a first-team All-State selection a year ago, averages a team-high 13.5 points for Spring-Ford, whose defense is limiting opponents to just 35.1 points per game.

Senior forward Shelby Mueller (12.3 ppg) and junior forward Maggie Locke (8.2) are the team's other top offensive threats.

Red Lion, which reached the District 3 quarters before losing 51-29 to Cumberland Valley, is led by the tandem of 5-foot-10 senior forward Morgan Kuehne (17.5) and 5-9 sophomore guard Courtney Dimoff (12.1, 56 3-pointers). Dimoff scored 23 points in a 53-43 victory over Lebanon that clinched a state berth for the Lions, while Kuehne had 16 points in a 49-44 win over Mechanicsburg in the District 3 fifth-place game. The Lions, by the way, fell to Boyertown 58-46 in a regular season non-leaguer.

"On offense, Red Lion has been successful on the perimeter, which has created isolation inside, so we are going to have to make them work to get their shots off and force them out of their comfort zone,' McDaniel said. "It will be important we jump to the basketball and play great team defense to shut down their drives to the rim.

"It's imperative that we keep constant pressure on the basketball the full length of the court. We had 25 more shots than North Penn in the district final and we will need that same kind of effort but will have to convert the opportunities so it reflects on the scoreboard. To get those opportunities, we will have to execute our offense with hard cuts and screens and crash the offensive glass.'

Methacton, making its second straight trip to the state tourney, is led by the stalwart senior duo of guard Kelly Glatthorn (14.3 ppg) and center Jenna Carroll (12.9) — both of which surpassed the 1,000-point career mark this season.

Warriors coach Craig Kaminski is hoping the experience of last year's first-round loss to Cardinal O'Hara (which Spring-Ford defeated in the semis) can be a factor against the Bulldogs.

"They worked hard all year to try and repeat a state playoff opportunity and they obtained it,' Kaminski said. "We stressed all year making it to states, but once we got there not to just be satisfied to make it like last year. The girls have been very focused all year and are working hard this week to make sure we are not one and done like last year.'

That said, Wilson presents the Warriors' most formidable challenge this season. The Bulldogs feature a couple of 1,000-point scorers in James Madison-bound forward Carley Brew and Rider-bound 6-1 center Jessie Wallace, as well two more Division I recruits in guards Avery Marz (St. Joseph's) and Ivory Bailey (Bryant).

Wilson won its four District 3 tourney games by an average of 26 points and defeated Dover 51-38 in the final.

"Rebounding and patience will be the keys,' Kaminski said. "We have to keep Brew and Wallace off the boards, and we also cannot allow Marz to penetrate and then dish to them. We have to be patient offensively and value every possession we get. The beginning of the game will be key. This is not a team you cannot fall behind by a lot to. If we can come out strong and gain confidence as the game goes on, we feel good about our chances.'

Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD