The Solanco girls basketball team got good looks at the basket down the stretch of its first round district playoff game.
The Mules did not like what they saw.
Solanco scored one point in the final 3 minutes, 50 seconds as host Berks Catholic finished the game with a 12-1 run to rally for a 51-44 triumph Tuesday night, February 18.
In many respects, the first round of the district tournament is the most important game of the season.
Win and you're guaranteed at least three more games including a berth in the PIAA Tournament. Lose like the Mules did and the season is over.
"It's very frustrating," Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. "This group of seniors, they're an awesome group. We didn't want it to end. We had it within our fingertips. We had it in our grasp. It's disappointing, but you know what, they battled. They played hard. I can't ask for more from them than they did. They went out there and played hard every possession. It just didn't fall our way tonight."
Ninth-seeded Solanco (14-11) did not trail until the final two minutes. A Jade Eshelman basket gave the Mules a 43-39 edge with 3:50 left but Solanco did not score again until the final seven seconds.
Berks Catholic tied it on a basket by Sophia Emkey with 2:59 remaining and took the lead for good on a three-pointer by freshman Caraline Herb with 1:45 to go. Solanco turned the ball over and found itself in a similar situation as the league semifinal loss to Pequea Valley. The Mules needed to foul but had only committed three team fouls to that point.
With 63 seconds left, Berks Catholic missed the front end of a one-and-one but Solanco misfired on a potential game-tying three-pointer 15 seconds later.
The Saints failed on another front end. Again, the Mules could not take advantage, missing a jumper. Berks Catholic's Hope Schreiber made the first of two free throws with 31.7 seconds left to make it a two-possession game. 47-43. The Mules missed two free throws and the Saints' Zariya Holt hit both of her's with 21.3 to play.
Solanco finally ended the drought on an Eshelman free throw with 6.7 seconds remaining.
"We got some good looks," McDowell said. "We got some drives to the basket but we stopped attacking. We needed to attack a little bit more. We kept it more on the perimeter and didn't look to get inside as much. I thought Jade had some good looks on some drives. Jenna (Dombach) had some looks on some drives. We had a couple good looks from the outside, too, on some penetrations and kicks. Paige (Phillips) had a good look out there. It's a good shot. It's a shot she's made before. I'm not disappointed in our shot selection. I'm just disappointed we didn't execute the shots."
The Mules were making their shots early. Dombach opened the scoring with a three-pointer and the Mules led 9-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Solanco had its largest lead just prior to halftime. Phillips buried a three-pointer and Dombach hit two free throws for a 24-cushion before Berks Catholic made a free throw to narrow the gap to six entering the break.
Solanco's advantage did not last long after intermission. Berks Catholic made two straight three-pointers to start the third quarter to tie the game.
Berks Catholic scored 12 of its 14 third quarter points on three-pointers.
"One of the things I think we struggle with is coming out as strong in the second half as we do in the first half," Dombach said. "But they were pressuring us up on the three-point line and that's kind of where we were sitting in the first half so I think they made some adjustments. We didn't adjust quick enough and I think that's what caused the result."
Solanco withstood the Saints' three-point barrage. Phillips knocked down a three-pointer to give the Mules a 33-28 edge midway through the quarter. Eshelman made a pair of free throws and Nikki Trout hit a jumper to supply Solanco with a 37-32 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Sammi Jackson scored off a Dombach assist to put the Mules ahead 41-35 with 5:49 left. Solanco was in prime position to keep its season alive before it was derailed by the late drought.
The Mules were seeking a third straight trip to the PIAA Tournament. Solanco's senior class – Dombach, Alana Yoder, Emma Urbine, and Ilynd Rapant – also won back-to-back section championships.
"It means a lot," said Dombach. "I think I appreciated it a lot on Senior Night and when we won the section. I think that's when it hit me the hardest, but tonight it definitely hit me again when I look back on all we did and what no one thought we could do. I'm so blessed to finish my senior year this way. I wouldn't have it any other way."
McDowell says this group deserves to be remembered. "Everybody thought we weren't going to do anything this year and here we were still playing in the middle of February," the coach said. "We were a couple buckets away from continuing to play. I'm very proud of our accomplishments. 'Section Champions 2020' will hand on the banner in the gym and they'll never take that away from this group of seniors. When they come back here for reunions and see that banner they know they were part of that team and deserve all that credit. They worked their butts off for four years."