Keystone Oaks beats Shady Side Academy to shore up playoff positioning

Thursday, January 27, 2022 | 11:21 PM

As play began on Thursday, there was a major logjam behind Avonworth in WPIAL Section 3-3A girls basketball. Five teams were separated by only two games with just over two weeks remaining.

Keystone Oaks distanced itself from the pack a bit by flying high early and cruising to a 48-37 victory over visiting Shady Side Academy.

“You play the game in your mind on how you think it might play out,” Keystone Oaks coach Ron Muszynski said. “How we did it and how well they accepted the game plan, I was very impressed with our girls’ effort.”

Keystone Oaks delivered an early KO to SSA.

The Golden Eagles scored the first six points of the game and led 16-5 after one quarter.

“We came out better than I anticipated,” Muszynski said. “I knew it was going to be a tough matchup because they are so much bigger than us.”

The Keystone Oaks defense remained strong in the second quarter, upping its edge to 16 points by halftime.

Part of the game plan for the much smaller Golden Eagles was to shut down the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-2 junior, Cate Sauer. They denied her the basketball most of the first half. Even when Shady Side Academy was able to get her the ball inside, she was surrounded by KO white jerseys and wasn’t able to do much.

“They have the size, but they don’t shoot the ball from 3,” Muszynski said. “We learned from mistakes (from a previous meeting) that if we can pack it in and play with just one defender outside the paint, it would probably work against them.”

Shady Side Academy “rookie” coach Jonna Burke agreed.

“Keystone Oaks had a great game plan and executed it to a T,” she said. “There were some great adjustments on their part after our first meeting.”

Keystone Oaks has had to adjust this season to having a young, small team after the lone senior and tallest girl on the team, Grace Gardner, suffered a season-ending injury in a fall league game.

“When we lost her, we lost a lot,” Muszynski said. “Eriona (Neal) is now playing out of position. She’s a guard who we now have playing center for us, basically. She’s a great team player.”

The lead for Keystone Oaks grew to as many as 23 points after three quarters; however, KO went into stall mode in the fourth quarter, allowing Shady Side Academy a chance to chip away and make the score more respectable in the end by outscoring the Golden Eagles, 15-3, in the fourth.

Neal, a junior, and sophomore Bailey Rig each scored 12 points to lead the Golden Eagles. Rig scored 10 of her points in a big second quarter.

Senior Natalie Stevens paced the Bulldogs with 15 points.

Keystone Oaks (6-3, 9-6) has won three straight games and is alone in second place after earning an all-important split of the season series with Shady Side Academy (3-5, 6-8).

After winning only one game all of last year, the Bulldogs are now a half-game out of a playoff spot with two weeks remaining.

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