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Defensive surge sends Abington past Neshaminy for Suburban One League title

Abington’s Kassondra Brown look to pass against Neshaminy during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

BENSALEM >> The timing had to be just right.

Abington girls basketball coach Dan Marsh knew he couldn’t have his team play a press defense for an entire game against Neshaminy, but if the Ghosts used at the right time, it could be a game-changer. Trailing in the third quarter and needing a spark, it was now or never time for the Ghosts.

Cam Lexow got a steal, Neshaminy had another turnover and Abington stuck its foot in the door just enough for its offensive playmakers to kick it the rest of the way open.

A defensive spark and some clutch buckets helped the Ghosts rally to top Neshaminy 51-44 Monday night to win the Suburban One League tournament title at Bensalem.

“Once you get to this level and are playing good teams, we’ll press a whole game but not a team like Neshaminy because then you’re exposing yourself to foul trouble and giving up too many easy shots,” Marsh said. “Fortunately, I think we lulled them into thinking we weren’t going to do it, then bang, threw it at them and it changed the game.”

Neshaminy’s Kristin Curley drives the baseline as Abington’s Kassondra Brown defends during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

Neshaminy, the SOL National champion and No. 2 seed for the upcoming District 1-6A playoffs and Abington, the SOL American co-champs and No. 3 seed for districts, aren’t fundamentally far apart. Sure, the personnel is different and they run different things, but both teams are strong defensively and have several ways to get points.

Putting two teams that sound defensively on the floor didn’t lend to a particularly pretty first half, with a lot of fouls being called and a lot of tough, contested shots not going down. Lexow hit two 3-point shots to stake Abington (21-3) to a 10-4 lead, but Neshaminy (21-3) came back with a strong second quarter.

Point guard Kristin Curley and guard Olivia Scotti, who came off the bench, sparked Neshaminy with six each in the frame as the National Conference champs took a 23-17 edge to the half.

“We were down at half and we also knew they could hold the ball and try to play at their pace, so in order to beat them, we had to play our type of game and make them play up to our pace,” Lexow said. “Harvey has a good shot, so my job was to eliminate her shot and I thought getting up on her kind of motivated everyone else to get up on their player.”

The Ghosts were going to have to win with their defense. On top of their spell of pressure defense, the Ghosts got another strong defensive game from senior Miranda Liebtag, who drew the task of guarding Neshaminy’s Bucknell-bound senior Brooke Mullin.

Abington’s Tamia Wessels drives to the hoop near Neshaminy’s Kristin Curley during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/Digital First Media)

Mullin, an all-state level player, and Liebtag are AAU teammates, so the Abington guard knew what she was up against. Good defenders know they’re going to give up some points, but they don’t let it impact the next possession, something Liebtag did well on Monday.

“I contained her pretty well and that was my goal going in,” Liebtag said. “I know how strong her game is so I just had to work to contain her. I just tried to stay in front of her.”

Mullin led Neshaminy with 16 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks and made some really tough shots including a spin move in the lane late in the fourth quarter that got Neshaminy within a score. A trey by the senior put Neshaminy ahead 28-19 with 5:39 left in the third, forcing Abington to start pressing.

The Ghosts responded with a 13-3 run fueled by guard Tamia Wessels’ ability to create and make shots on her own for eight of those 13 points.

Neshaminy’s Brooke Mullin goes to shoot as Abington’s Amanda Jackson and Tamia Wessels defend during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

Abington got hot thanks to its defense, with Lexow triggering it by being a menace on the baseline when Neshaminy tried to inbound the ball.

“I got that steal and I think gave it to someone for a three then they just threw it out of bounds, we got a layup and then on the sideline we got another stop that just changed momentum,” Lexow said. “What I try and do I try to fake and make them think they can throw the other way and try to anticipate that or just jump back and forth to try and mess with their head.”

“She just harasses people,” Marsh said of Lexow’s defense.

The timing was right and Neshaminy didn’t do what it needed to in order to break Abington’s pressure. That, coupled with a handful of good looks just not going in, added up to a rough finish for Neshaminy in its first trip to the SOL title game.

“It didn’t catch us by surprise, we talked about it at halftime and knew it was coming, we just didn’t execute,” Neshaminy coach Joe Lally said. “It felt like it wasn’t our night. The kids played hard. Kassondra (Brown) is just a great player and when you start collapsing on her, they have so many shooters that’s just what ends up happening to you.”

Abington’s Khalis Whiting has the ball knock out of her hands by Neshaminy’s Emily Tantala during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

When the teams met back in January, Neshaminy prevailed in overtime after Brown fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Despite picking up three first-half fouls, Brown was able to avoid fouling out this time and her presence went a long way toward Abington winning.

The senior scored 13 of her 14 points in the second half and had eight of her 11 rebounds after the intermission. Liebtag found Brown for the game-tying score to open the fourth quarter before Liebtag came up huge with her only shot of the night.

Liebtag splashed a left-wing three with 6:26 left, putting the Ghosts up 41-38 and giving them an advantage they wouldn’t give back.

“It’s basically my role on the team, hitting those big shots,” Liebtag said. “If I only get one shot, I want to make sure I hit it.”

Neshaminy’s Emily Tantala battles Abington’s Tamia Wessels for a rebound during the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. (Gene Walsh/MediaNews Group)

Wessels led Abington with 17 points while Lexow added 11 and two steals. Khalis Whiting scored six points and dished out eight assists.

Monday was Abington’s first SOL tournament title, coming after a loss to Central Bucks West in the first year of the event and a semifinal loss to Central Bucks South last year and an important one to the program. While the Ghosts boys team has enjoyed a lot of success the past five years, the girls haven’t been far behind and got a title of their own to show for it.

“They know it’s never been won for Abington and they wanted to do it,” Marsh said. “Some people don’t take this seriously but they wanted it and I think they proved that tonight.”

Abington 51, Neshaminy 44
Abington 10 7 19 15 – 51
Neshaminy 6 17 15 6 – 44
A: Tamia Wessels 4 6-6 17, Cam Lexow 3 2-2 11, Kassondra Brown 5 4-9 14, Miranda Liebtag 1 0-0 3, Khalis Whiting 0 6-10 6. Totals: 13 18-27 51.
N: Brooke Mullin 7 0-3 16, Kristin Curley 4 0-0 8, Alexa McCoy 0 2-2 2, Kelli Kowalick 2 3-7 7, Emily Tantala 2 0-0 4, Olivia Scotti 3 0-0 6, Kacie Sienko 0 1-2 1. Totals: 18 6-14 44.
3-pointers: A – Wessels 3, Lexow 3, Liebtag; N – Mullin 2.

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