CHAMBERSBURG — The similarities were impossible to ignore.
A Spring-Ford girls team. The PIAA semifinals. The venue: Chambersburg.
When speculation began over where the PIAA Class AAAA girls basketball semifinal would be held after the Rams dispatched Abington in the quarterfinals, Spring-Ford head coach Mickey McDaniel had many thoughts ahead of Chambersburg.
"Even when we knew North Allegheny won and we were trying to figure out where it could be — there was talk of Penn State, there was talk of Shippensburg, Carlisle — all of a sudden Chambersburg came out of the blue. And that's where they put the game,' he said.
The significance wasn't lost on Sammy Stipa and Kaity Dougherty. Nor was it lost on McDaniel, Amy Roth or Lauryn Hart either.
Not so long ago — on a bone-chilling night in November — a Spring-Ford girls team took the two-and-a-half-hour trip to Chambersburg to play in a PIAA semifinal.
That time around — on the soccer field — Spring-Ford used a dominant defensive display to dispatch a District 7 rival and earn a trip to Hershey for the state final.
Little has changed.
The Rams made magic on another trip to Chambersburg Tuesday night when they used a superb third-quarter run to handle District 7's North Allegheny, 47-32, and earn a second straight trip to the state final on Friday night at the Giant Center in Hershey (6 p.m.).
The team awaiting the reigning PIAA champion Rams is the same, too, after District 3's Cumberland Valley downed Rustin, 61-45, in Tuesday's other semifinal.
The good vibes of the Rams' previous trip to southcentral Pa. — the soccer team's 1-0 overtime victory over Seneca Valley — were memories seniors Stipa and Dougherty were happy to retrieve.
"I thought it was really weird that it was the same location for both semis. But it made it more exciting to be back here,' said Dougherty, a starting center back in soccer. "That game in soccer was so exciting, it went into overtime, it was so cold which made it more intense. It was so much fun to be back here to remember that and bring that intensity just made it so much better.'
Along with Dougherty and midfielder Stipa in soccer was sophomore Roth, who started Tuesday night and scored two points, and junior Hart.
An all-state first team selection last year, Stipa was every bit that level in scoring a team-high 14 points against North Allegheny. She's been through plenty of high-profile games — the basketball team's three straight trips to the District 1-AAAA championship and at least the PIAA semifinals in all three seasons — but the recent soccer success certainly didn't hurt.
"It gave us experience to get used to these big-time games. You feel the pressure being on us but (it allowed Dougherty and I as leaders) to step back and tell the team it's OK, that we're fine, that it's a regular game,' Stipa said.
The soccer success also gave McDaniel a bit of ammunition in his pep talk to the team as well.
"We talked about it in the bus, with the soccer team and KJ (Dougherty), Sammy, Lauryn (Hart) and Amy (Roth). And here we are. We talked about how beautiful a facility it was, we talked about how freezing cold it was,' McDaniel said.
"But we talked about destiny — this is destiny by coming right back here. And look what our soccer team did, they won and it took them to the state championship.'
Oddly enough, being the head coach Tuesday, as opposed to the soccer game where he was a spectator as the school's athletic director, was a more favorable place to be for McDaniel.
"I was into that soccer game as much as I was into the basketball game,' he said. "You want to see all of our athletes succeed. Actually, I was probably more nervous for soccer. When you're a coach you can control things a bit but when you're spectating as AD you don't have any control and you're nervous every possession. Probably I was a little more relaxed tonight.'
Dougherty's playing time on the basketball court doesn't equal soccer where she played start to finish — all 104 minutes of the double OT semifinal win Nov. 12 in fact. A part of Spring-Ford's rotation for her defensive ability, Dougherty is nevertheless one of the three team captains.
She's a perfect example of the team-first approach that has helped Spring-Ford reach state prominence. Regardless of field or court.
"(Playing) time doesn't get to me that much,' Dougherty said. "I try to be part of the team and be there for all the girls. If something happens I'm there cheering them on. It doesn't matter how much time you get, you just want to be a part of it and be there for each other and be together.
"I am always positive and try be there for every player, to help everyone bring the intensity, bring the heart and tell everyone to do our best. Do Spring-Ford's best.'
And these days, especially in Chambersburg, Spring-Ford's best is pretty darn good.
*Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog