RADNOR >> Eileen Piombino caught the attention of Sacred Heart Academy coach Zach Shuler when she was in the eighth grade.
When she would attend Lions home games, Piombino would dribble a basketball and shoot around during halftime and after the games. Shuler remembers watching from afar, wondering, “Who is this kid?’”
“That’s how I found out about her,” Shuler said. “She would put her skillset on full display. That’s when I decided to go talk to her and we kept in touch. We hoped that she would come here. We knew Eileen would be a great fit for our school because we are kind of like the underdog in our league (Catholic Academies). We have to fight so hard against the bigger teams.”
There’s that word again — “underdog” — which the Eagles made so famous during their run to the Super Bowl. Piombino, a pint-sized senior guard, has been called underdog a time or two. She’s never been the tallest player, but it’s difficult to match her heart and desire.
“It’s all about work and if I can out-work anybody that is bigger than me, I feel that I can still be better than them,” said Piombino, who stands 5-foot-4. “I have been told a lot of times that there’s no way I can compete at a higher level because of my size. I’ve been underestimated. When someone walks out on the court and you hear them say, ‘I got the little one.’ I go, ‘Well, good luck with that.’”
Piombino has doubted all the naysayers. Saturday afternoon in Sacred Heart’s 54-26 victory over Dock Mennonite, Piombino scored her 1,000th career point. She became only the third player in school history, and the first since Hannah Rush in 2011, to reach the milestone.
SHA's Hannah Rush '11 and Eileen Piombino '18 celebrate SHoops 1000 point club! pic.twitter.com/szfab4MzcG
— Sacred Heart Academy (@SHAbrynmawr) February 10, 2018
“She’s really done a phenomenal job with improving her skillset — the ball-handling and the shooting — and her all-around game including her defense as well,” Shuler said. “She was definitely a player, when we first saw her, that could help our program right away. I remember her freshman year, she hit a game-winning 3-pointer against Chichester and hit another big shot to win us a game against Bishop McDevitt. So, she showed us her freshman year, right from the start, that she could play and excel at the high school level. In the last two years, she’s just kind of taken off, especially with her scoring.”
Growing up in a house with all brothers made Piombino a tougher competitor.
“I grew up with three brothers, so basketball is always the thing that tied us together,” she said. “I obviously can’t play football, so I stuck with basketball. My brothers are big role models to me.”
Piombino hit two free throws, a layup and a 3-pointer in the first quarter. She entered the game needing only 12 points, so she set a good pace from the start.
But then she hit a dry spell. In the second quarter she missed six field-goal attempts, but hit a 3-pointer in the third quarter. With the Lions comfortably ahead, Piombino needed two points.
Following a timeout, junior center Kyra Quigley held the ball inside the paint. Piombino quickly made a cut to the basket and Quigley hit her in stride for an easy layup for her 999th and 1,000th points. Piombino, who is among the top-five scorers in Delaware County, finished with 14 points and six steals.
“My mom was pretty confident — I mean, she printed out pictures of my face, which was a little interesting,” Piombino said. “I think it’s a little nerve-wracking because there’s always a possibility that it couldn’t happen. My main goal is to win and this is just something that is an added bonus to me. It’s all about the team and how far we can make it and how well we play together.”
Piombino and the Lions are vying for their second consecutive District 1 Class 2A championship. Last March they routed Bristol, 57-30, to win the program’s third district crown. They will be the No. 1 seed in this year’s District 1 2A tournament and host a semifinal game Feb. 23.
Piombino is happy she was able to get her big moment out of the way on the final day of the regular season.
“It means a lot to have it happen on senior day just because so many people came out to support us,” she said. “I feel like I’ve dedicated a lot of time to the team, to the program. So, on a night when we are being honored for our dedication over the last four years, it means a lot.”
Piombino has had thoughts of playing basketball in college “but education comes first,” she said. She wants to pursue a degree in engineering.
Sacred Heart received positive contributions from several players including Agnes Freind, who had 11 points. Quigley recorded seven points, seven rebounds, five assists, five steals and four blocked shots. Kayleigh Doyle chipped in with 10 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
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