NEWTOWN SQUARE >> In the days and weeks ahead, Springfield freshman Alexa Abbonizio and her family will tell stories and share memories about her late grandfather.
Robert J. Abbonizio, affectionately known as “Big Bob,” passed away Feb. 6. He was 80.
Alexa is one of Mr. Abbonizio’s nine grandchildren. And he was a big fan of his granddaughter, the basketball player.
Abbonizio was in the starting lineup for Springfield in its regular-season finale Friday. She had the best game of her young high school career when she scored 29 points to lead the Cougars to victory over Radnor. She dedicated that game to her grandfather.
Sunday at Marple Newtown, mere hours before she would attend her grandfather’s viewing service, Abbonizio helped Springfield defeat Haverford, 37-27, in the semifinals of the Central League playoffs.
The Cougars will play reigning league champion Garnet Valley in the final Tuesday night at Harriton.
— Matt Smith (@DTMattSmith) February 11, 2018
Abbonizio paid tribute to her grandfather the best way she knew how.
“I played for him,” said Abbonizio, who scored a game-high 12 points. “Everything was for him tonight. The win two nights ago, that was for him. It was all for him.”
Abbonizio’s ability to keep her focus on basketball during trying times was not lost on her teammates and coaches.
“She showed a lot of mental toughness,” junior Jordan D’Ambrosio said.
“Especially because she’s only a freshman and she hasn’t been (in big games) before,” junior Belle Mastropietro said. “She played really well.”
Springfield coach Ky McNichol couldn’t have asked for more from Abbonizio in Sunday’s win. Abbonizio hit two field goals, including her second 3-pointer of the day, to help Springfield expand its lead to nine points in the third quarter.
“It has not been an easy week for her or her family and she’s really stepped up for us,’’ McNichol said. “She put her emotions on the floor. She told us that she was going to dedicate these games to her grandfather and she really put her heart into these games and did it for him.”
Abbonizio shot 3-for-7 from the floor and 4-for-4 at the free-throw line. In addition, she grabbed two rebounds, made one steal and dished out one assist. Thanks in large part to her performance, Springfield (17-6) avenged a regular season setback to Haverford (15-8) and will play in the Central League final for the second time in three seasons.
“We kept our turnovers to a minimum and we showed that we can play much better than we did the first time we played them,” Abbonizio said. “We just made shots. We missed a lot of shots the first game, which was the main reason why we lost.”
Springfield’s stingy defense was another reason for the success Sunday. Haverford turned the ball over 23 times and shot 10-for-33 from the field. The Cougars excelled with their perimeter defense and blocked lanes to the basket. Haverford’s tall and athletic forward tandem of Sara Walsh and Lindsey Lane were limited to a combined two points. Junior guard Erin Doherty, the Fords’ leading scorer, finished with a team-high 10 points.
“Our energy was up today and I think we weren’t prepared for them the first time,” said D’Ambrosio, who scored 10 points, grabbed four rebounds, had two assists and made one steal. “I think this game, we wanted it more. It was revenge.”
Mastropietro filled up the stat sheet, finishing with eight points, three rebounds, two steals and an assist.
“We really worked hard at bumping their cutters,” McNichol said. “In order to beat Haverford, they have a great offense where they send cutters through and set a lot of back
screens, we knew we had to do a better job at defending that.”
Springfield revved up its offense in the second half by attacking the rim. D’Ambrosio and Mastropietro both showed fearlessness against the teeth of the Haverford defense.
Doherty’s layup in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter cut Springfield’s lead to five points, but that’s as close as the Fords would come. Back-to-back baskets by D’Ambrosio gave Springfield a nine-point edge. Abbonizio and Jordan Postiglione made free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Next up is Garnet Valley, which hasn’t lost a Central League game since Dec. 22, 2015. And who handed the Jaguars their last taste of defeat? It was McNichol’s Springfield team, back when Mastropietro and D’Ambrosio were rookie high school players.
Garnet Valley is vying for its fifth consecutive Central League title.
“God gave them height and God gave us speed,” D’Ambrosio said. “We have to push the ball and score in transition.”