Fast start keys Abington Heights’ state playoff win over Solanco

By Robert Tomkavage -

SCRANTON — It didn’t take long for Abington Heights senior guard Sharon Houlihan to recognize this time might be different.

Senior forward Cassie Ksiazek and Houlihan each knocked down both of their 3-point attempts in the first quarter as Abington Heights stormed out to a 23-6 lead and cruised to a 53-34 win over Solanco in the first round of the PIAA Class 5A girls basketball playoffs March 10 at Marywood University.

Ksiazek hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring and Houlihan sank one less than 30 seconds later to give the Lady Comets an early boost at a venue where they have fallen short in the past.

“As soon as (Cassie) made it, I was comfortable and I knew it was going to be a good game,” Houlihan said. “As soon as I released the shot, I knew it was going in. It was an awesome feeling.”

Ksiazek added a foul shot and freshman guard Clair Marion scored a basket before Houlihan hit another 3-pointer to give Abington Heights a 12-0 lead. Senior guard Hannah Kowalski tacked on four more points during the Lady Comets’ 16-0 run to start the game.

“We came out really strong,” Kowalski said. “We got rolling and never looked back.

“Sharon really gets us going. She hit some big shots and it rubbed off on the rest of us. It opened up the lanes and we were working all the way around.”

Freshman guard Rachel McDonald, who finished with nine points, made a 3-pointer and had two steals in the second quarter when Abington Heights stretched its lead to 32-12.

While Abington Heights head coach Deanna Klingman recognized the importance of the team’s efficiency on offense in the first half, the group’s play on defense was equally impressive.

The Lady Comets blocked 16 shots, led by Ksiazek who had nine to go along with nine points and seven rebounds.

“I knew they had some very good shooters,” Klingman said. “We had to play an aggressive 2-3 defense and we came out with a lot of energy. We forced them to put the ball on the floor and Cassie did a terrific job, defensively.”

Kowalski scored four of her game-high 14 points in the fourth quarter to help Abington Heights leave Insalaco Arena with a win after losing there in the first round of the playoffs the last two years.

“We broke the Marywood curse,” Kowalski said.

Senior center Elizabeth Mowrer scored 11 points and junior guard Jessica Cabrera added 10 for Solanco (17-11).

Abington Heights (19-7), the District 2 champion, will play Harrisburg (24-4), the District 3 champion, in the second round of the state playoffs at 7:30 p.m. March 14 at Martz Hall in Pottsville.

Harrisburg defeated Abington Heights, 47-37, in an early-season meeting Dec 8. Klingman believes her team has improved since that game.

“Our freshmen are much more mature and they’re playing with a lot of confidence,” she said. “We locked into a lineup and everyone bought in.”

By Robert Tomkavage

Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.

Reach Robert Tomkavage at 570-704-3941 or on Twitter @rtomkavage.