Don't miss the top plays from the PIAA Class 1A first round game between Halifax and Southern Fulton. Video by Lindsey Smith
In most cases going up against a team stacked with two 1,000-point scorers and nearly three players averaging a double-double would be a near-impossible draw.
But the Southern Fulton girls basketball team had a trick up its sleeve in Saturday's PIAA Class 1A first-round game against Halifax: the return of Olivia Mottern.
In Mottern's five-game absence from the starting lineup due to an injury, the Indians have become a polished team, which helped them withstand the Wildcats, 45-42, to advance to the PIAA sweet 16 for the first time in three years.
But having the school's all-time leading scorer on the court certainly didn't hurt.
Southern Fulton (18-8) will take on Jenkintown (22-5), the District 1 champions, on Wednesday in the second round.
Mottern said, "I'm definitely excited to be back and ready to go, but being out really gave the other girls a chance to show what they can do. So now I think we are playing so much more like a well-rounded team and that's going to help us. We've gotten ousted in the first round every year for the last three years, so for everyone this is the first time we've made it to the sweet 16. It's a really good feeling and to win like that is a great confidence boost."
Mottern picked up just where she left off, leading the Indians with 21 points - nine of which came off foul shots (she shot 81 percent from the line) - despite scoring just two points in the first and third quarters.
But it wasn't all smooth sailing for the Indians, who were pressured by Halifax in the final minutes of the game. With two minutes left, Halifax's Brianna Turner - the school's second all-time leading blocker - stuffed a Southern Fulton shot in the paint, and the Wildcats took it coast-to-coast to cut the deficit to one.
"We did a heck of a job limiting them to 15 points in the second half after moving to a man defense," Halifax coach Dean Kerstetter said. "But they made their foul shots at the end there and you can't stop that."
Southern Fulton sank 8 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter, including four straight from Mottern, to give the Indians everything they needed to lock in the win.
But Halifax's switch to man-to-man did knock Southern Fulton on its heels in the second half, despite that being the defense the Indians prefer.
"We really thrive when teams play us in man and the girls really enjoy it," Southern Fulton coach Meagan Mellott said. "I told the girls at halftime, you are shooting well against their zone and you have the momentum - expect them to go man, and that's exactly what we wanted to happen. And then it happened and it's like we just couldn't find our rhythm again."
Southern Fulton was outscored 20-15 in the second half, making the eight-point lead SF racked up at halftime all the more important.
Brynn Miller led Halifax with 14 points, while Turner had 11. The Indians had a trio of players - Emily Bradshaw, Drew Gordon and Lindsey Hollenshead - score six each to help Mottern's efforts. Hollenshead also had seven rebounds.