HERSHEY — For the past three seasons, the Spring-Ford girls basketball team racked up an impressive 89 victories thanks to what's been arguably the most dominant defense in the state of Pennsylvania.
Friday night at the Giant Center, however, the Rams finally found themselves on the other side of the coin.
Cumberland Valley clamped down like a vise, limiting Spring-Ford to a woeful 20 percent shooting effort en route to a 49-30 victory in the PIAA Class AAAA championship game.
Star sophomore Kelly Jekot scored a game-high 16 points and sweet-shooting junior Taylor Sneidman scored 12 points as the Mid-Penn Conference champion and District 3 No. 3 seed Eagles (28-5) avenged last year's 60-45 state title loss to the Rams.
Senior guard Sammy Stipa scored a team-high 11 points for the Pioneer Athletic Conference champion and District 1 runner-up Rams (27-7), who saw a nine-game PIAA tourney winning streak halted in emphatic fashion.
"They didn't make a lot of mistakes,' Stipa said of Cumberland Valley, which had the better of it in all facets of the game. "They pressured us throughout, and they hit a majority of their shots, which hurt us. We tried to keep our heads up and keep pushing it and getting shots, but theirs kept falling and ours wouldn't.'
"They came out really hard from the beginning,' echoed fellow Rams senior Shelby Mueller, who had eight points and eight rebounds. "We tried to come back but they just hit crucial shots.'
They did that from the get-go, after Mueller's two foul shots gave Spring-Ford its lone lead at 2-0 with 7:02 left in the first quarter.
Sneidman nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to put Cumberland Valley up to stay at 3-2 and ignite a nine-point run highlighted by two baskets from the 6-foot Jekot.
Spring-Ford trailed 11-4 after a quarter and 23-14 at halftime before getting a couple of foul shots from Mueller to begin the third quarter and cut the deficit to seven. But Sneidman banked home a runner and University of Maryland/Baltimore County-bound Maddie Torresin drained a 3-pointer to jack the lead to 28-16 — the Rams got no closer than 10 the rest of the way.
"We were definitely motivated,' said the 6-1 Torresin, whose squad had fallen 52-37 to the Rams in a non-leaguer last month. "We felt like this was our time to shine.'
"We knew we needed to come out and defend Sam Stipa, because she's a great player,' Jekot said. "And that's exactly what we did.'
The Eagles kept Stipa (3-for-11 from the field) in check thanks to a yeoman effort from junior Jen Falconer and plenty of help. They also contained the 5-10 Mueller (1-for-7) by collapsing on her every time the Rams tried to pound it inside.
"Their defense was tough,' Spring-Ford coach Mickey McDaniel said. "Bill (Wolf, the CV coach) had them sag in on us, and it took away our drives. We wanted to get the ball to the rim, attack the rim, and try to get them in foul trouble. And if not, kick it out and hit some 3s. We just didn't shoot well.
"I think we came out believing we could do certain things, and they took them away. There's some things we didn't do well, but there's a lot of things they did well.'
Jekot went 6-for-8 from the floor, including two 3-pointers, on a variety of drives, runners and jumpers, while Torresin had nine points and Meghan Rhoades had eight rebounds for the Eagles, who shot a scorching 50 percent (18-for-36). Still, Wolf was just as proud of his squad's defensive effort.
"That's what's going to win you championships, and I think it came into play tonight,' Wolf said. "We knew if we were going to beat them, we were going to have to stop Stipa and Mueller, Stipa in particular.
"So we made some adjustments, trying not to go out quite as far on her. Still playing tough and aggressive, but not letting her get that head of steam and beat you.'
Stipa, who has played hurt most of the season, finally limped off with a little less than two minutes left in the game after re-aggravating her injured left knee, in which there is a meniscus tear. She confirmed afterward she will likely need surgery, perhaps as early as next week.
And though the tears flowed freely while the Rams received their silver medals, there was still a sense of achievement that pervaded the postgame scene outside the locker room.
"I'm still so proud of what our team accomplished,' Mueller said. "The fact we got here is a great feeling.'
"We can't define our season on one game, even though we didn't play good today,' Stipa said. "We still had a great season. No one thought we'd get this far. It's just an amazing accomplishment and definitely a memory I'll always remember.'
McDaniel will bid farewell to the trio of Stipa, Mueller and Dougherty, whose class rang up three straight PAC-10 titles, two District 1 championships and three title-game appearances, three straight trips to the PIAA Final Four, and last year's state championship — not to mention finishing with a record of 109-19 during their four years.
"What occurred tonight in no way diminishes what we all think of this group of young ladies,' McDaniel said. "They've been resilient, they've worked their tails off in practice and they've done everything we've asked them to do. As I told them, ' Do not let one game define what you've accomplished this year.'
"Tonight it was just Cumberland Valley's night.'
Freshman Katie Jekot, Kelly's younger sister, made her presence felt by scoring six points and was a factor in the transition game. ... Cumberland Valley finished with a 26-23 rebounding advantage and forced 19 turnovers while committing 17. ... Molly Hynes hit the lone 3-pointer for the Rams, who were 1-for-9 from beyond the arc. ... Spring-Ford's point total was its second-lowest of the season to a 43-26 loss to eventual Berks and District 3 champion Wilson.
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.