The first round of the district playoffs is always the toughest, especially when you’re the No. 1 seed.
You need to win to advance. Lose and your season is over, just like that. And there’s always added pressure if you’re the 1-seed, because you’re supposed to beat the No. 16 seed and move on.
That was the scenario facing Solanco on Tuesday night. And the Golden Mules delivered.
Aleksa Burger scored 15 points, Jess Cabrera chipped in with 10 points, and the top-seeded Golden Mules gutted out a 51-44 victory over No. 16 New Oxford in the first round of the District Three Class 5A playoffs in Quarryville.
Solanco (19-5) survived 13 first-half turnovers and a second-half cold spell, but fended off the pesky Colonials down the stretch. By advancing to the district quarterfinals, the Mules also locked up a spot in the PIAA playoffs.
“They played tough-nosed defense against us,” Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. “We struggled with their press a little bit, although we were able to beat it later in the game after making some adjustments. Hey, it didn’t have to be a masterpiece. We had to win to keep playing.”
And play on Solanco will. Up next for the Mules is a date against Mechanicsburg in the district quarterfinals on Friday at 7 p.m. back in Quarryville.
Solanco never trailed against New Oxford, but the Mules never really supplied a knock-out punch. Solanco led 15-9 after the first quarter and 24-19 at the half, but the Colonials never went away, even after falling behind 40-29 through three quarters.
New Oxford (9-14) opened the fourth quarter with a quick 6-0 blitz, slicing Solanco’s lead down to 40-35 on a jumper by Morgan Adams with 6:54 to play.
“They had the 6-0 run to start the fourth, but we weathered that storm,” McDowell said. “We talked about gutting it out and pushing through. And we did.”
Burger started Solanco’s game-ending flourish with a steal and layup, and Cabrera’s bucket gave the Mules a 42-35 cushion. And these two key factoids: Jade Eshelman pulled down five clutch fourth-quarter rebounds, and Solanco sank seven free throws down the stretch to ice it.
“We didn’t want to lose,” Cabrera said. “The seniors weren’t ready for this to be down. So that was at stake. We had to work together, and when the game got close and when it was back and forth, I knew we were going to pull through. That was our mentality.”
Solanco forced 22 turnovers and out-rebounded New Oxford 33-28, as Eshelman had a team-high 10 boards for the Mules. Adams paced the Colonials with 14 points and 14 rebounds.