Parkland girls reach District 11 title game
After beating Northampton twice during the regular season, it would have been sweet revenge for the Konkrete Kids to beat Parkland when it mattered most, in the district playoffs.
That could have very easily happened, but a couple of big plays at just the right time led Parkland to a 45-43 win and a trip to the District 11 finals.
A number of Parkland players made big plays down the stretch to seal the win. It started with Olivia Brown stopping a ball from going out of bounds and getting it to Erica Bross, who nailed a three-pointer with 1:18 left to play to put Parkland up 43-42. Bross had her shot working all night and finished with a career-high 15 points.
After a foul shot by Northampton's Zeniyah Sanders tied the game, it looked like the two teams were headed for overtime. Instead, sophomore Nadine Ewald took a pass from Brynne Brouse, who both the Northampton team and fans thought traveled on the play, and drove to the basket with :07 to play. Ewald what turned out to be the winning basket.
As a senior and team leader, Olivia Brown had an off night shooting, going 3-for-11 from the floor, but more than made up for the scoring lapse with nine rebounds and three steals in addition to keeping the ball in play and getting it to Bross for the go-ahead shot.
"In a close game like this, you have to work for every play and when I saw the ball going out, I thought 'I'm not going to let it go out,'" said Brown. "I was able to hustle and get the ball and then I saw Erica [Bross] and I kicked it out to her and she made the three
"I had confidence that she would make the shot. If my shots aren't falling, I really lean on my teammates to score. I just look at it as it's my job to get the rebounds and get the steals and give it to the person who has the hot hand."
Parkland coach Wes Spence credited Brown with knowing how to play the game the right way and knowing what to do in key spots.
"People see her as our leading scorer, but she does so many things even when she's not scoring," he said. "She rebounds, she gets steals and plays smart. Instead of just trying to force her shot, she looks for ways to contribute on defense and gets the ball to other girls on offense."
Ewald has played a key role for Parkland after taking over a starting spot when Brooke Robertson went down with a hand injury. Surprisingly, the sophomore isn't feeling any pressure even though the games get tougher as her team goes deeper into the postseason and credits players like Brown and Brouse for helping her game.
"In practice, they really push me hard and they push all of us young girls," Ewald said. "They tell us what to do in certain spots and they've really helped me out."
Spence was emphatic about the hard work his team has put in this season and is glad to see it all paying off for his players, especially the seniors.
"I get to be here next year," he said. "I get another crack at it next year. They [the seniors] have a finite amount of time, so I really, really am happy that we were able to get to this point. I really like this group of kids."
Parkland will now play top-seeded Pocono Mountain West in the District 11 finals Friday night at Stroudsburg and have guaranteed themselves a trip to the PIAA Tournament. Parkland beat the Panthers 55-35 seven weeks ago, but Spence says it was a much closer game than that.
"They played us hard. With [Jackie] Benitez, you always have to be aware of what she can do. You have to respect their team and hope that they don't get hot, because they can be very tough," said Spence, who saw Benitez score 22 points against his team in the first meeting.
For a young team, Parkland is unaffected by its success. Asked if the pressure of the postseason was difficult to deal with, Ewald easily summed up her approach.
"There's no pressure at all. I'm just trying to play my hardest," said the six-foot tall sophomore. "I guess it's sinking in. We're all really excited and I just want to go really far with my team and do well."