By Ryan Croke
When Abby Plaugher hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot, her third of the quarter, to end the first and bring North Penn’s lead up to nine points, things looked grim for the Jaguars’ girls’ basketball team. Playing in a District I Playback game with the winner receiving a state tournament bid and ending the season of the loser, this was not a situation they had hoped to be in. The Knights had thoroughly outclassed the Jags in every aspect of the game; their fast-paced, highly-efficient offense combined with suffocating zone defense threw Garnet Valley for a loop. North Penn’s play dictated how the entire quarter played out, and it showed on the scoreboard.
Things had not been working in the Jags’ favor by any means at this point in the game. The first half saw them get lots of foul calls (some of which were highly questionable), with sophomore star Haylie Adamski picking up her third foul not even a minute into the second quarter. Head Coach Joe Woods unsurprisingly sat Adamski after this, not wanting his strongest offensive piece to get into any more foul trouble in a game where the Jags would sorely need her talents if they were to come back. This made it even more surprising when she came back to the scorer’s table after only a minute of game time had elapsed since her exit. Coach Woods was confident in his star player and sent her back out there to try to stop the bleeding and help Garnet Valley rally.
The move paid off spectacularly, as Adamski attacked the North Penn defense and sparked a Garnet Valley run that cut a double-digit Knights lead down to six by the halftime break. This game was far from over, and the Jags’ resilience, something that has defined their 2022-23 campaign, was once again something that demanded acknowledgment.
This year’s girls’ team has been tested time and time again over the course of the season, and they’ve stepped up to the plate and faced adversity head-on at every opportunity. When Emily Olsen’s season came to an unfortunate end thanks to an injury suffered back in December, the Jags lost an extremely talented key contributor that simply could not be replaced. Despite this, the girls overcame the obstacle as best they could, with several players stepping up their game to try and make up for her absence. Mia Zebley, Sarah Sigston, and freshman call-up Katie Dwyer stepped in and played stellar minutes for the Jaguars, providing unmatched hustle down low. Kylie Mulholland showcased her offensive prowess, leading the group from the point guard spot with incredible shooting and scrappy defensive play alongside her partner-in-crime, fellow sophomore Savannah Saunders. And Haylie Adamski continually put up impressive stat lines, continuing to be an offensive force that struck fear into her opponents.
This group is nothing if not resilient, and they had certainly proven it by this point of their season. So when they came out of the halftime break tasked with taking down a Knights team that had been cruising for the entire first half, it was nothing they weren’t used to. The Jaguars put together a brilliant third quarter, opening it on a 7-0 run, and closing it having outscored North Penn 10-2 and regained a two-point lead heading into the final quarter of play. The Knights, who had been white hot shooting the ball, failed to make a single field goal in the third, and the Jaguar offense, led by a determined Haylie Adamski, was firing on all cylinders.
When the fourth quarter rolled around, everyone in the 2020 Center knew this game would come down to the wire. The mood in the building had completely changed, and it was now the Knights who would have to respond after being tremendously outplayed. Luckily for them, the Jags had once again racked up lots of foul calls in the third (once again with several questionable calls), and they were in the bonus entering the fourth. North Penn came to play in the fourth, with Cameron Crowley hitting the quarter’s opening field goal not even 20 seconds in after going the entire third quarter without one. The Knights would score the first eight points of the quarter, going back up by six, and the Jags would once more have to come back.
Not helping their cause was the officiating, as a game that had already seen several debatable whistles go against the Jaguars witnessed a spike in them at the worst possible time. All game long, the Knights had gotten away with a physical brand of basketball. Savannah Saunders and Jordan Daubenberger had been knocked to the ground by a North Penn player a plethora of times, with not a single whistle coming their way. Despite this, the two got up every single time they were knocked down, showing incredible strength and perseverance despite having to have been incredibly frustrated. In a way, the play of Daubenberger and Saunders in this win-or-go-home scenario is a microcosm of the girls’ entire season: repeatedly being knocked down, battered and bruised, only to get back up again and play some great basketball.
Saunders in particular did just that, with her defense being incredible as always, finishing the game with five steals and seven points, including a crucial fast-break layup that brought Garnet Valley back within one. Her impeccable fourth quarter was accompanied by Adamski putting on the performance of a lifetime, finishing the game with 25 points, 10 rebounds, and five steals of her own. With help from Katie Dwyer and more, Saunders and Adamski led the Jags as they stormed back to a 40-37 lead with less than 40 seconds remaining.
North Penn’s Caleigh Sperling hit two free throws to knock the deficit down to one, and Adamski would respond by hitting two of her own. With the score 42-39 with less than 20 seconds left, nobody expected the Knights to come down the other end of the floor and convert on a driving layup with under five seconds to go. They had gambled on putting the Jags at the line in the hopes that they would not convert on the one-and-one, but after Mulholland added two more to Jaguar lead at the stripe with only 3.4 remaining, and without any timeouts left to use, North Penn could only hope a Cam Crowley half-court heave at the buzzer would fall to send the game to overtime. When her shot rebounded off the backboard and landed in the hands of Mia Zebley, the 2020 Center crowd erupted in celebration. Garnet Valley’s girls’ team had once again shown incredible grit and resiliency, and that had kept their season alive another day.
The girls will play some remaining District I Playback games to determine seeding, and with a state birth clinched, they look to make some noise in the state tournament in a few weeks.