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Abington’s Heath turns in night to remember in District 1-6A final

RADNOR >> Robbie Heath was offended.

The Abington junior was offended that Coatesville was helping off him to go and double-team his teammate, Eric Dixon. So Heath did what any offended person would do in that situation.

He took it all out on the Red Raiders.

Heath, who is already etching his name into Abington’s record books, scored a game-high 30 points in a fantastic performance as the Galloping Ghosts topped Coatesville 57-51 in the District 1-6A boys championship game Saturday night at Villanova’s Pavilion.

“It means my hard work is finally paying off and people are noticing me,” Heath said. “My teammates got me involved early and I think me making plays and getting baskets got the momentum going and I got my confidence and we came out with a win. It’s special.”

Heath has been terrific all postseason for the Ghosts, scoring his 1,000th point against Penn Wood, becoming just the second junior to reach the plateau in school history. With the mark, Heath joined his father Robert “Tiger” Heath in the school’s 1,000-point club and Saturday, surpassed former teammate Amir Hinton for 10th place all-time in scoring.

Coatesville, a really good and really young team, presented a chanllenge for Abington with its relentless pressure and in the first half, Abington was falling into the Red Raiders’ schemes too often. After the break, Abington started to slow things down and Heath started to impose himseld.

After a solid 11-point first half, Heath opened the third quarter with a layup and then an old-schol three-point play that turned a 24-24 halftime tie into a 29-24 lead. Coatesville was determined not to let Abington sophomore Eric Dixon beat them, something more and more teams are trying to do.

When that happens, Abington coach Charles Grasty wants his guys to take it personally.

“We know teams are going to start trying to take Eric away and when they do that, I tell our other guys ‘be offended,'” Grasty said. “Robbie Heath was offended. He feels like he doesn’t get the respect that he deserves and he was offended and he said he was going to come out and give it his all.”

Abington’s Robbie Heath tries to get a shot over Coatesville’s Tyrel Bladen during the second half of the District 1-6A championship game on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Sam Stewart/Digital First Media)

The elder Heath found his way to Australia during his professional career, planted roots there and that’s where Robbie was born. Wanting to play college ball, Heath’s mom pushed him on a path that eventually sent Robbie and his dad back to his father’s old high school.

From the beginning, Robbie Heath was a starter and was a big part of the 2015 district champion team, scoring eight points in the 2015 4A final.

The Aussie guard is as cool as they come and his laid-back nature meant he wasn’t a vocal guy his first two seasons. That’s all changed this year.

“Handling the basketball, my midrange game and me being a more vocal leader on the court, I’ve improved most at,” Heath said. “I was pretty laid-back, didn’t say too much to my teammates but this year, even though I’m not a captain, they look up to me because I play the most minutes on the team. I’ve been in games like this, I’m just gald I’ve improved on the court and off the court.”

Yet for all his accomplishment with Abington, the college attention hasn’t come yet for Heath.

Grasty knows why.

“It’s because he doesn’t play on the AAU circuit,” Grasty said. “He’s been going home to Australia to see his mom and his family the last couple of years. You get a lot of recognition on that AAU circuit. We talked about it, he’s staying this year to play on it and a lot of people are going to see how good he is.”

Heath can score in droves, but his game is more refined than that.

“He knows the game of basketball,” Grasty said. “Some people just play or can put the ball in the basket but he knows how to play. A lot of teams and a lot of coaches are going to get to see that.”

Heath, who was born near Melbourne, has two sisters back home plus his mom. They’ve been over to see him play a couple of times this season but weren’t able to make it on Saturday. Heath said it was tough not having his whole family there, but they also inspired his performance.

In the fourth quarter, Heath took over. He scored 14 of his 30 in the final frame, taking advantage of Coatesville’s reliance on penetration and floaters to leak out for transition baskets. The guard said he trusts his big men, Dixon and Joe O’Brien to rebound every miss and they know to look up first to see if anyone is running down court.

Heath didn’t finish every one of those chances, but when he didn’t, he got fouled doing it.

“No one can rebound over our big men, so I like leak out sometimes,” Heath said. “Coach usually says stay there because if I go, my man can get an easy basket. I took some chances and they paid off in the end.”

It would be easy to think a guy as relaxed as Heath is unflappable. That’s not usually the case as he admittedly gets a little nervous before every game. At first, that wasn’t the case on Saturday.

“Then I came out here and I was like ‘holy crap,'” Heath said. “But as soon as the game started, my teammates and I had each other’s backs. Having the atmosphere here, it’s what you play for. It’s why you get up at five o’clock and run hills, go in the gym and shoot some shots for. I’m glad we came out, got the win and made our school proud.”

Like he took chances in the fourth quarter, Heath took a big chance leaving his homeland to try and make a name for himself. He may not be drawing that attention yet, but if he keeps playing at this level, that won’t last long.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Grasty said. “That’s what a lot of people got to see tonight.”


Top Photo: Abington’s Robbie Heath goes in for a bucket during the second half of the District 1-6A championship game on Saturday, March 4, 2017. (Sam Stewart/Digital First Media)

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