The Solanco girls basketball team had an uncharacteristically awful shooting night at the most inopportune time.
The Golden Mules made just one of 28 three-point attempts during a 49-39 loss to Mount St. Joseph in a PIAA Class 5A first round game at Upper Dublin High in Fort Washington Saturday afternoon.
Section Three champion and District III fourth place finisher Solanco (20-8) ends the season on a three-game losing streak.
The Golden Mules shot 25 percent from the field. "We forced some things from the three-point line, but we also took some really good shots which just did not fall," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. "Some nights they go in and other nights they don't. Unfortunately we picked Saturday night to have a tough shooting night. It happens."
District I runnerup Mount St. Joseph broke the game open with an 8-0 spurt early in the fourth quarter.
After the Mules' Aleksa Burger scored on a putback to trim her team's deficit down to 34-31 with 6:29 remaining, Mount's Taylor Sistrunk answered five seconds later to start the string of eight straight.
Grace Kreider hit the Mules' only three-pointer of the game with 2:39 left but Mount made five of eight free throws down the stretch to prevent a Solanco rally.
The Mules' season is over but memories last a lifetime. "When I walked off that court my first thought was 'all glory to God'," said Kreider. "He blessed this team so much and I'm so thankful. The memories we have are unbelievable. It's something I can never take for granted."
Both teams started slow. Jess Cabrera hit a game-tying free throw to put Solanco on the board with 2:32 elapsed in the game.
Mount led by as many as seven in the first quarter before Dombach scored.
"Everybody has that game and it just happened to be this game," Kreider said. "We couldn't buy a shot. We're told shooters keep shooting so we kept shooting but nothing was falling."
The Mules took their first lead midway through the second quarter. A Grace Kreider putback started a 6-0 mini-run which gave Solanco a 13-12 edge.
Despite struggling from the outside, the Mules managed to stay in the game by hitting the offensive boards. Following Kreider's bucket, Burger converted after an offensive rebound.
"Coming into the game, we knew they were a good rebounding team so we just came in with the mentality we have to get every board," said Burger. Dombach made a free throw and Burger rebounded the miss and drew a foul. "We rebounded fairly well, especially on the offensive end," McDowell said. "We just couldn't get shots to fall from the perimeter. It was one of those nights."
Trailing 17-13, Solanco scored six in a row capped by another Burger bucket on an offensive rebound to go ahead 19-17. That would prove to be the Mules' final points of the first half and the last time they led in the game.
Mount tallied seven consecutive points to end the second quarter and take a 24-19 edge into the break.
Solanco was unable to get closer than three in the third quarter. Back-to-back baskets by Paige Phillips and Dombach sliced the margin to 32-29 entering the fourth quarter.
"We couldn't get shots to fall," McDowell said simply. "It was just one of those nights. One of 28 from the three-point line which is not typical for us. We couldn't make shots and they got shots to fall in the second half and we eventually had to foul to try to extend the game and they made some foul shots. We kept attacking. We kept going to the hole but they just went ahead too far and we couldn't catch up."
Junior guard Lauren Vesey scored 17 points for Mount St. Joseph and sophomore forward Grace Niekelski had 14.
Burger led the Mules with 12 points and 13 rebounds, including 11 on the offensive glass.
Kreider contributed nine points, four steals, and four rebounds, and Dombach delivered eight points and five rebounds.
"Especially the last 30 seconds, it was so surreal," Burger said. "My high school basketball career is coming to an end."
It was Solanco's third appearance in the PIAA tournament. The Golden Mules went 1-1 in 2012 and lost to Abington Friends in last year's first round.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, McDowell was flooded with feelings. "It hit me hard," he said. "This group of seniors (Jess Cabrera, Grace Kreider, Aleksa Burger, Mackenzie Gladfelter, Kara McClune, and Hanna Phillips) is awesome. I have a great group here, the five that played plus Hanna who was injured. They're just an awesome group of seniors. It was very emotional in the locker room, their last time in there together. It's a unique group we've had the past four years. It's the first group I've had go all the way through the program and they have done an excellent job building our program and making our program what it is. When I first took over five years ago, I think they were coming off two 0-22 seasons. Now we're here playing two years in a row in a state game. It's all because of their hard work and their dedication to the game. I love each and every one of them to death, love them as if they were my own daughters. They're great kids, just absolutely great kids. I look forward to seeing what they do in the future. Some are going on to play sports. Some are going on to play basketball. They're all going on to bigger and better things in life, and that's the key. This is all about life lessons. They're all going to do great things."
HONORS: Solanco was rewarded for its outstanding season with a number of awards. Jess Cabrera was selected Section Three MVP and Chad McDowell was Coach of the Year. Cabrera, Grace Kreider, and Aleksa Burger were each named first team Section Three All-Stars. Jade Eshelman was named to the second team and Jenna Dombach received honorable mention. Kara McClune was selected the section's Unsung Hero.