PJP makes history, clinches first-ever District 1-AAA title appearance

WISSAHICKON — Pope John Paul II missed an opportunity to win its first PAC-10 Championship three weeks ago.

Now, the Golden Panthers seemed hell-bent on making up for it.

Jenna Widdicombe finished with a game-high 19 points while Susan Bossler also finished in double-digits as Pope John Paul II clinched its first ever spot in the District 1-AAA final with a 58-33 victory over Merion Mercy Wednesday at Wissahickon.

The win also clinched a PIAA berth for the Golden Panthers, their only other appearance coming in the 2012-2013 season.

PJP will face No. 1 Gwynedd Mercy in the District 1-AAA finals Saturday at Upper Dublin at 4 p.m.

“It feels really good, getting over that hump is a big deal,’ Widdicombe said.

“We just wanted to work well as a team and not be selfish,’ PJP’s Gabby Troisi said. “We really wanted to get to this point because we didn’t get to the PAC-10 Championships. We just wanted to get to the district championships and then go as far as we can in states.’

The win comes on the heels of a dominating effort in a 74-53 victory over Springfield-Montco in the district quarterfinals. Troisi finished with a game-high 18 points while Widdicombe added 13 as the Golden Panthers never trailed after falling behind 2-1 0:37 into the first quarter.

Wednesday’s storyline was much of the same.

Troisi was once again magnificent, finishing with eight points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Lauren Dao finished with seven points and helped spearhead a dominating defensive effort that saw PJP build a lead as high as 26 before taking the 25-point verdict.

PJP never trailed in the win, extending its streak to 63 minutes, 23 seconds.

“It feels so good to know that we made history,’ Dao said. “Our team has been working so hard all year. To be able to get there finally, means so much.’

Valez Jackson led Merion Mercy with eight points while Gabby Heinsinger and Caroline Corzel added seven and six, respectively. Jada Smith finished with a team-high 11 rebounds for the Golden Bears, who will play Sun Valley in the District 1-AAA playback round for a berth into the PIAA tournament.

However, their quarterfinal matchup was never in question.

Troisi’s ability to find Widdicombe in the paint was a key difference early as Widdicombe’s eight-point first quarter paced the Golden Panthers to a 16-8 lead after one before solid defense and a timely 3-pointer by Bossler helped make it 23-13 at the half.

“For me, personally, I could feel myself being able to get my long arms up over them,’ Widdicombe said. “It wasn’t hard. I know Gab (Troisi) picks up on that real easy. She knows when I have the height advantage and she gets it to me. It makes it that much easier.’

Widdicombe and Troisi teamed up in the third, combining for 10 points (Widdicombe 6, Troisi 4) as the Golden Panthers expanded a 25-13 lead into a 35-15 advantage with four minutes remaining in the frame.

Bossler then came alive in the fourth, scoring six of her 13 points off 3-pointers to expand the lead to 51-29 midway through the quarter. Troisi then capped off the dominating effort with an athletic reverse putback off a Widdicombe miss, making it 54-30 before Steph Petery and Rachel Yerger tacked on the remaining points via free throws.

“I think we tried taking advantage of the height differential,’ Troisi said. “We just tried to box out and get rebounds. It worked well for us.’

Now, one more chapter can be added to PJP’s history book; a first-ever district championship well within reach.

“We’re a whole different team (than in year’s past),’ Widdicombe said. “We don’t like looking back on history because we’re a new team, we’re playing for each other and we’re working toward our end goal as a whole.’

One step at a time.

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