Morgan Aldinger squeezes between a pair of Pottsgrove defenders en route to the basket in Friday night's home game.
Juniors Jess Spano and Holly Graber and a pressure defense carried the Upper Perk girls basketball team to a 44-29 win over Pottsgrove in the PAC-10 opener for both teams last Friday night in Red Hill.
Spano did the heavy lifting in the first half, scoring 13 of her 16 points, while Graber shook off a cold shooting first half to notch 14 of her game-high 17 points in the second half.
The Tribe (1-0, 2-2) was playing the second game of back-to-back contests and was missing Holly Crossin for the second straight night, but Upper Perk built a big lead with a scrambling full court press that helped force the Falcons into 30 turnovers.
Upper Perk enjoyed its biggest lead at 31-12 with four minutes left in the third quarter and then slogged its way to the end of the game.
“Kids really hustled, and you could tell that we were tired,” said Upper Perk coach Pete Sovia. “About the middle of the third quarter and the fourth quarter we really struggled. Some of that is Pottsgrove, obviously. Back-to-back games at the high school level is a tough one.”
The Tribe, which never trailed after getting off to a 6-0 start, benefitted from Spano’s domination along the baseline and in the paint.
Spano bucketed eight of her points in the first quarter alone, scoring on baseline drives and off offensive rebounds.
“She’s hitting the boards. She’s making inside shots. She’s making enough foul shots to keep everybody honest and just gives us a gritty and toughness that every good team has. She’s our leader clearly in that department,” said Sovia, heaping praise on his 5’8 forward who finished with 13 rebounds.
Spano enjoys mixing it up inside. “It’s my most favorite part of the sport. It’s great.”
Upper Perk threatened to put the game out of reach before halftime, taking a 19-6 lead thanks to a 10-0 run.
But after a timeout, Pottsgrove bounced back with its own run and Karly Conrad’s layup made it 19-12 with 3:42 left in the first half. Conrad led the Falcons with 9 points.
Sovia countered with his own timeout and shortly after play resumed, the visitors lost momentum and last year’s leading scorer when Alliya Austin went down with a leg injury for the rest of the game.
The Falcons would not get another point, and Upper Perk led 22-12 at the half.
Graber, who had shot 1 for 7 in the first half, found her range after intermission.
She opened Upper Perk’s scoring with a conventional three point play after being fouled on a layup and then hit from beyond the arc to boost the Tribe’s lead to 16.
Graber was undeterred by her erratic first half and expressed a scorer’s mentality: “Just keep shooting, pretty much. If I don’t shoot, I don’t score, and we don’t win. The coaches told me to relax, and the team helped me out.”
Sovia knows the effect Graber can have in a game. “She can be devastating when she gets hot. There’s times at practice when she really lights it up.”
Despite growing fatigue, the Indians kept up the defensive pressure with a full court press that featured Morgan Aldinger, Gina Moser and Aubrey Gibbs harassing the Falcons (0-1, 1-2) in their backcourt.
Sovia also got productive minutes off the bench from Alexis Moyer and Anna Duemler.
The Tribe was coming off its first win of the season, a 43-41 nail biter against Brandywine Heights. Graber had 13 in that game while Gibbs and Moser tallied nine apiece.