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Polin’s clutch free throws lift Upper Dublin over Abington in PIAA-6A quarterfinals

Upper Dublin’s Maggie Weglos goes to the hoop as Abington's Kassondra Brown defends during their PIAA-6A quarterfinals at Bensalem High School on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

BENSALEM >> Upper Dublin freshman Jess Polin had the chance to give the Cardinals a lead over Abington with 5:11 remaining in the game.

She was fouled, trailing by one, and headed to the line for a one-and-one.

She missed the front end.

When she stepped to the line four minutes later — after a Maggie Weglos runner gave the Cardinals a one-point lead — she buried both to extend the lead to three.

With five seconds left and a three-point lead, Polin hit two more free throws to seal a 36-31 win over Abington in the PIAA Class 6A state playoff quarterfinals at Bensalem High School.

“Absolutely not,” Polin said about thinking of her missed foul shot later in the game. “I know now that I can’t think about mistakes from the past. I just have to keep moving forward and know that I had another chance to get it right.”

Upper Dublin’s Jackie Vargas pulls up for a jump shot as Abington’s Kassondra Brown defends during their PIAA-6A quarterfinal at Bensalem High School on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

The (1-9) Cardinals needed late-game heroics after a 13-point halftime lead turned into a one-point deficit in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Abington forced nine turnovers in the third quarter and outscored Upper Dublin, 14-2, in the eight-minute frame. Camryn Lexow led the charge with seven points.

“We had more energy.” Abington coach Dan Marsh said of the second-half defense. “We were less conservative — we were more aggressive. We wanted to pressure them and turn them over. I honestly thought we could play straight up with them a little bit without having to pressure them so much. We were a little afraid of (Dayna Balasa) in a trapping situation getting open looks, but at that point when you’re down 22-9 you have to do something and we did. Our kids responded.”

“We weren’t prepared enough for their press,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “It’s inexcusable. We should be better prepared for that press. To be able to understand the magnitude of the game and be mentally tough enough. If you could hear what Maggie (Weglos) was saying to the girls out of the timeouts we were taking out of necessity to save a possession, her staying positive and — she didn’t guarantee victory — but her mentality — I felt very comfortable that we were going to win the game because of how she was acting.”

(1-5) Ghosts guard Tamia Wessels gave her side its first lead of the game with a deep three with 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Weglos gave the lead back to Upper Dublin for good with a runner along the left side with 2:50 showing on the clock.

Polin sunk two free throws to get the lead to three and — after Abington’s Britney James grabbed a steal and raced to a layup to cut the deficit to one — UD freshman Dayna Balasa hit two free throws to get the lead back to three with 30 seconds left.

Abington’s Sam Brusha was off with a long three-point attempt to tie the game and Polin sealed it with the final free throws.

Abington’s Sam Brusha goes up for a layup during the Ghosts’ PIAA-6A quarterfinal against Upper Dublin at Bensalem High School on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

“In practice we shoot pressure free throws all the time,” Funsten said. “We give the girls an option as to who wants to step up and shoot them. Regularly, Jess Polin and Dayna Balasa step up and shoot the free throws. We’re talking about girls that haven’t been around too long who are doing that. They have the confidence to do that. Can’t say enough about what they did tonight offensively and defensively.”

The Cardinals, who will face the winner of Souderton and Neshaminy in the semifinals Tuesday, got off to a hot start. Jackie Vargas had seven points in the first half and Balasa had six to build a 22-9 halftime lead.

“Jackie Vargas hasn’t really attempted a three all year,” Funsten said. “Coming in I was half joking, half serious yesterday at practice. I said, ‘Hey first play of the game, Jackie, we’re going to run a three for you.’ All the girls just went crazy because we see in practice she can make the three. We were like, let’s do it. Of course she drains it. She set the tone early.”

“We had some nerves,” Marsh said. “We missed some shots that changed that game. Vargas comes out and hits two threes and a jump shot — that sets a tone for them and then we miss a bunch of shots and we tighten up. I think that’s really what it was. If we make a couple of those shots I think it’s a different game.”

Vargas led Upper Dublin with nine points and Balasa had eight.

Lexow paced Abington with 11 points and Kassondra Brown scored eight.

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