Ragdolls leave heartbreaker behind, turn focus to playoffs

  • Ryan’s Shannon Glenn led her team with 14 points.

  • Ryan junior Danielle Skedzielewski said the goal for the Ragdolls remains the same: to get to the Catholic League title game.

  • Ryan sophomore Ashley Smink wasn’t afraid to take big shots in Ryan’s 58-53 OT loss to St. Hubert. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

For the Arch­bish­op Ry­an girls bas­ket­ball team, it was a good news/bad news type of scen­ario.

The bad news is that the Rag­dolls lost four of their fi­nal five games of the reg­u­lar sea­son, which came on the heels of a sev­en-game win streak. Two of those losses were heart­break­ers: a 36-35 last-second home heart­break­er to Arch­bish­op Car­roll, one of the Cath­ol­ic League’s top teams, and a 58-53 over­time loss at St. Hubert in the reg­u­lar sea­son fi­nale, a game the Rag­dolls led by 11 points. The loss to the Bam­bies pushed Ry­an down in­to the sev­enth seed for the up­com­ing post­season (St. Hubert got the sixth and fi­nal first-round bye by vir­tue of win­ning), for­cing the Rag­dolls in­to a first-round home play­off con­test on Thursday against either Little Flower or Con­well-Egan.

Therein lies the good news. Des­pite the late-sea­son losses, Ry­an is still in the play­offs, win­ning six games in a bru­tally tough league. They did so with just three seni­ors on the roster, and 40 of the team’s 53 points against St. Hubert were scored by ju­ni­ors and sopho­more. Not only are the Rag­dolls young, but they also fea­tured a first-year head coach in Mike Mc­Cusk­er, a former as­sist­ant to both St. Hubert and the Ry­an boys pro­gram who took the reins from Jack­ie Hartzell after she left to be­come the head coach at the Uni­versity of the Sci­ences.

“At the end of the day we tell our girls as much as we want to win those games against our rivals, we still have to learn and get bet­ter from it,” Mc­Cusk­er said of the late-sea­son losses. “We did make the play­offs, and we need to fo­cus on the next game. Was it tough? Yes, but after 24 hours, we fo­cus on our next op­pon­ent and try to move on from there.”

Like most young teams, the Rag­dolls cer­tainly made some mis­takes on Fri­day night at St. Hubert. They had dy­nam­ite first and third quar­ters, lead­ing 20-10 after one and 43-36 after three. But whenev­er it seemed like Ry­an was go­ing to put the game away, the Bam­bies came char­ging back.

With the game tied at 49 in the fourth (Ry­an ju­ni­or Dani­elle Skedzielewski had hit two free throws to tie the game with 18.4 seconds left), a St. Hubert play­er con­trol foul on Car­oline Price gave the ball back to the Rag­dolls. Ry­an turned the ball over on the in­bounds pass, but St. Hubert seni­or Kelly Ri­ley’s out­let pass was in­ter­cep­ted by Rag­doll sopho­more Ash­ley Smink. Smink, per­haps for­get­ting the score was tied amidst the mass con­fu­sion, dribbled the clock out without get­ting a shot off.

“It was mass chaos,” Mc­Cusk­er said of the fi­nal pos­ses­sion. “I think she (Smink) was a little con­fused, but I also think they (St. Hubert) were con­fused be­cause it looked like they fouled Smink twice on the play. Hey, it hap­pens. I told the girls to keep them­selves poised and be un­der con­trol. We only have three seni­ors, so it’s a great les­son to learn from. We’ll get bet­ter from it.”

Des­pite Smink’s in­ab­il­ity to get a shot off dur­ing the fi­nal flurry, the sopho­more was ar­gu­ably the team’s best play­er pri­or to that, scor­ing 10 points on some big-time three-point­ers. Pair that with sopho­more Shan­non Glenn scor­ing a game-high 14 points and Skedzielewski be­ing just a ju­ni­or as the team’s lead­ing scorer, and the Rag­dolls ap­pear to be in great shape when the 2014-15 sea­son rolls around.

“It was great to see Ash­ley and Shan­non be ag­gress­ive in a game like that,” Skedzielewski said be­fore Ry­an prac­ticed on Monday af­ter­noon. “They’ve been a big part of our team this year. It’s great to see the young­er play­ers step up and not be afraid of the mo­ment. We need them.”

Des­pite the res­ult, both Mc­Cusk­er and Skedzielewski raved about the Ry­an-St. Hubert rivalry. The game pro­duced a ca­pa­city crowd for St. Hubert’s Seni­or Night, but the school also honored Ry­an seni­ors Taylor Adair, Al­is­on Szyszko and Megan Miller in a pregame ce­re­mony. The game had some ex­tra drama in­volved for Mc­Cusk­er, whose cous­in is Price’s mom.

When two rivals are sep­ar­ated by such a short dis­tance, it’s only nat­ur­al that the rivalry will be­come fierce and per­son­al.

“We wait all sea­son for that game,” Skedziel­wski said. “It’s the biggest one wheth­er it means something or not. Most of us know each oth­er be­cause of where we come from. It’s hard to de­scribe, but it’s the one you want to win all sea­son to the point where part of me feels like you only want to win that one.”

“The rivalry is just great, and it’s great to see people in the North­east get ex­cited about girls bas­ket­ball and be a part of it,” Mc­Cusk­er ad­ded.

As for Price own­ing brag­ging rights at the next fam­ily gath­er­ing?

“I’ll prob­ably take some rib­bing,” he said with a laugh. “But I am happy for her. It was great to be there on her Seni­or Night, and she was a dif­fer­ence maker. I sent my cous­in a text after the game and let her know I was happy for Car­oline. It’s her last year, and I’m al­ways glad to see her do well … just maybe not against Arch­bish­op Ry­an.”

Per­haps the biggest sil­ver lin­ing amidst all of this is that des­pite how the sea­son ended for the Rag­dolls, they, like every­one else that qual­i­fied for the post­season, will be guar­an­teed a clean slate. Now, with every­one at 0-0 again, any­thing that happened pri­or to the play­offs can go out the win­dow.

“We feel like we can win no mat­ter what our seed is,” Skedzielewski said. “We have con­fid­ence in ourselves. Our goal is still the same, which is to get to the cham­pi­on­ship game. That’s not go­ing to change.”

Mc­Cusk­er con­curred.

“The bot­tom line is we’re still in the play­offs and we still have an op­por­tun­ity to make our mark,” he said. “At the end of the day we still have to go out and play every­one to get to our goal, which is to win a Phil­adelphia Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship.  ull;•

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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