The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)
LC breaks through for 1st PCL title with fourth-quarter rally
The reality of taking the court at the Palestra in a Philadelphia Catholic League final, of putting up a shot, sending it through the net and hearing the response from those in attendance at the historic arena matched everything Lansdale Catholic’s Gabby Casey envisioned.
“It’s amazing, it’s everything I could think of or dream of,” said Casey, the PCL Most Valuable Player. “Just looking up and seeing all those people in the crowd, it’s crazy. And the noise that they make when you make a shot, it’s just everything.”
The roar from Lansdale Catholic’s sizable student section reached its loudest after Casey delivered a pass to Olivia Boccella, the junior sharpshooter letting go an effort from well beyond the 3-point arc that was on target to break a 4747 tie with Archbishop Wood in the contest’s final minute.
“I just know my teammates have my back and I’ve been practicing all week, all season,” Boccella said. “And, I don’t know, I just knew it was going in.”
A missed 3-pointer with a rebound grabbed by Jaida Helm a 50-47 victory Monday night, giving Lansdale Catholic its firstever PCL championship in its first appearance in the league’s title game.
“We walked into the first day of practice with all these lofty goals and aspirations and a lot of folks that sort of anointed us people that were going to be sitting here and I had to throw it away,” LC coach Eric Gidney said. “And that’s exactly what I did, I mean I walked in with printouts of the Palestra and the Giant Center and crumpled them up and threw them on the gym floor and said ‘The first step is Nazareth Academy.’ And we just continued to do that.”
While Boccella’s clutch three provided a dream-like finish, the breakthrough for the program did not come easy. The Crusaders showed their championship mettle in having a 16-point lead erased by the Vikings only to rally back from seven down with less than six minutes left in the fourth to be the side celebrating with the PCL title plaque.
“We just had to step up more on defense and just get out on the shooters and stuff and then just create shots from Liv because she hit some in the big moments,”
Casey said. “And just keep reversing the ball on offense, you know sometimes we get a little crazy with the one-on-one stuff but once we get it rolling, team basketball, nobody can stop us.”
The Crusaders opened the matchup with consecutive 3-pointers, jumped out to a 16-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and extended the advantage to 24-8 after a basket by Casey.
But Wood began connecting from beyond the 3-point arc, slicing the margin down to five before an Olivia Boccella triple had Lansdale Catholic up 2719 at halftime. But the momentum was still with the Vikings after the break — Wood starting the third with 11 straight points, taking its first lead at 30-27 on Ava Renninger’s 3-pointer.
Emily Knouse’s buzzerbeating trey made it 40-34 entering the fourth while in the fourth a basket from Renninger had the Vikings up 44-37.
However, threes from Casey then Helm had the Crusaders down one at 4443. A pair of Boccella free throws got LC again within a point at 46-45 before Helm knotted the game at 47 on a drive. A steal by Sanyiah Littlejohn set up LC’s final possession, which ended with Boccella burying her game-winning deep three from the left wing.
“We just knew that if we stuck with our game plan, we’re teams that are so familiar with each other now in these meaningful moments, in these meaningful games,” Gidney said. “That they are who they are, we are who we are and it’s just a matter of who’s going to do a better job of being successful with what they’re good at and then how much time is still left of the clock when that happens, right?”
Since Lansdale Catholic’s entry into the Catholic League in 2008, the Crusaders girls had tried to find a way into the league’s elite that included programs, such as Archbishop Wood, that are among the top in the state. Cracking that club proved difficult, with LC reaching a PIAA championship game — last season, falling to Wood — before finally advancing past the PCL’s quarterfinal round for the first time this year.
The Crusaders’ first trip to the semis saw them take down Archbishop Carroll 53-39 to earn a chance to play for and eventually claim a Catholic League crown at the Cathedral of Basketball. One dream accomplished, now a few more left, starting with the District 12 Class 4A final then after that the state tournament.
“Let’s keep this going,” Gidney said. “There’s nothing that this team can’t do when they put their mind to it.”