Greenwood girls earn chance to make history

Mar. 18—It's still relatively fresh in Leah Ritzman's mind.

Two years ago, she and several of her Greenwood teammates had their first state playoff experience.

As the District 3 third-place team, the Wildcats drew District 4 champion Northumberland Christian in the Class A opening round. The midweek game at Milton High was over almost as soon as it began, with the veteran Warriors bolting to a 19-point lead after one quarter and forcing 32 turnovers in a 62-20 win.

Northumberland rolled to the state championship behind Class A Player of the Year Emily Garvin and twin towers Anna and Emma Garvin, while the young Wildcats learned what it takes to compete at the state level — and more.

"It's definitely given me a lot of motivation," Ritzman said of that game. "We want to be that team that people are scared of because, honestly, we were scared of them. Like, 6-foot-tall twins and 2,000-point scorer? You're going to be afraid of that.

"I think now we've come to the point where people can kind of be afraid of us because of what we're showing people."

Greenwood advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since 1987, all but ignoring its status as a fourth-place district finisher while knocking off a pair of district champions (Jenkintown, Linville Hill) and a district runner-up (Meadowbrook Christian).

The Wildcats (18-11) face another district champion today in repeat District 2 winner Mountain View (23-4), 6 p.m. at Berwick H.S. The winner will play for the Class A crown 12 p.m. Friday in Hershey against either Bishop Guilfoyle or Williamsburg.

"Right now, it's 0-0 every game," said Greenwood coach Jeff Deitz. "The only thing that matters is you've got to be 1-0 when you leave the gym."

The Wildcats have been on a remarkable run since dropping consecutive district games by five total points to Mount Calvary in the semifinals (39-36) and Veritas Academy in the third-place game (48-46). After routing perennial contender Jenkintown in the state's opening round, they upset two teams that boasted a combined 52-3 record. They did it all with defense, allowing an average of 30.3 points (and no more than 36) in three state games.

"A game in the 30s, I think we have a great shot," said Deitz. "We're going to go look at the next (opponent) and we're going to figure out what we need to do and we're going to defend."

Mountain View is led by 6-foot-2 sophomore Addison Kilmer, an inside-outside force who has posted several triple-doubles that include blocked shots. She was first-team all-state last season, averaging 17 points while leading the Eagles to the state semifinals where they were beaten 34-33 by Lourdes Regional at Berwick.

Kilmer presents a threat unlike Greenwood has faced thus far in the state tournament, and her junior sister Ryleigh Kilmer is a dynamic guard who demands attention.

Greenwood is coming off perhaps its best defensive showing of the season. In stunning once-beaten Linville Hill on Saturday, the Wildcats forced six first-quarter turnovers to grab the lead and held it while harassing the Warriors to shoot just 27% from the floor (3-of-24 from 3-point range).

"We knew we had to close out high and defend the 3-point line very well," said Greenwood sophomore Danica Zurenko, who helped hold Linville star Courtney Good to two points on 1-of-12 shooting. "I know our defensive effort has paid off when the game's over. When we have won and played defense really well as a team together and for myself, I know it was worth it. The sweat, blood, tears was all in it."

The Wildcats forged an 11-point halftime lead Saturday with Ritzman scoring six second-quarter points. They outscored Linville again in the third, shooting 4-for-9 with Zurenko and senior Sophia Jezewski picking up assists as the lead ballooned to 17.

"It was huge because, obviously, we let that lead dwindle" to three late in the game, said Deitz. "I'm sure I won't be extremely happy with how we executed at times, but what I thought we did really well is we found the open girl so many times. When we got them in a little bit of trouble and forced them to play zone, I thought that's where we made some great decisions with the basketball to get some good looks."

Greenwood also had a banner foul-shooting game, hitting 17 of 26 shots from the line for a 65% clip. In five previous games this season with at least 20 attempts, the Wildcats' best clip was 62% (16-of-26). For the season, they shot 53% prior to Saturday's game.

"It's been an Achilles heel from Day One, and we know that. I'm not going to hide from it," Deitz said. "It's something we need to do better. And it's something we've ... I don't want to use the analogy that we've thrown darts at a dartboard to figure out how to fix it, but we've tried pretty much everything we can try.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to telling the girls, 'Step up to the line, and shoot it with confidence.' It's getting to the point we don't make a big deal out of it. They know it's something they need to focus on."

Morgan Hale, one of five current Wildcats who played against Northumberland Christian, hit 5 of 6 free throws to up her team-best clip to 72.7%.

"In the moment, looking at the scoreboard and having the pressure on you — you're always going to feel pressure at the free throw line — I think as a team and as an individual, we just have to overcome that pressure because those points matter," she said. "They're free points. You need to make those."

Greenwood's only other state semifinal appearance resulted in a 58-44 loss to Marian Catholic, which ultimately lost the 1987 title game to Bishop Carroll. In that run, led by Erinne Lawlor and Katy Cameron, the District 3 second-place Wildcats beat a third-place team (Loyalsock) and a pair of district champions (Forest City and Elkland).

With a similar run, the current Wildcats earned the opportunity to make program history today.

"It's just confidence," said Ritzman. "I think we have a ton of confidence, and that's what's helping us to (succeed)."