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.”
“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;•