ROYERSFORD — Pope John Paul II’s second go-around at the PIAA playoffs ended much like the first.
Except this time, the Golden Panthers went down swinging.
Led by the efforts from its starting quintet, PJP whittled down a 20-point, third-quarter deficit down to one before Berks Catholic sealed the game from the foul line, claiming a 63-57 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs Saturday afternoon at Spring-Ford.
“This game was a really good challenge for us,’ Pope John Paul II senior Susan Bossler said. “We were down 17 at the half and we just wanted to come back and chip away bit by bit and get back into it. It didn’t work out like we wanted to but all of us gave it our best. I couldn’t be prouder of my teammates.’
Gabby Troisi led PJP with 14 points while Lauren Dao and Dahlia Wilson closed out their high school careers with 12 and 10 points, respectively, as the Golden Panthers had possession with a one-point deficit three times after coming back from a 45-25 deficit midway in the third into the fourth.
Taking the lead, however, was out of their reach.
“That was just a gut check for us,’ PJP head coach Chris Santori said. “To have the ball down by one with a chance to take the lead, you can’t ask for anything more. The momentum was going our way but again, our shots at the end, we didn’t finish. I don’t know if it was running out of gas or what, but we just had some shots that we generally knock down and we didn’t.’
The loss marks an abrupt end to PJP’s second-ever PIAA appearance and closes the careers of seniors Dao, Wilson, Courtney Thompson, Jenna Widdicombe and Bossler. The Golden Panthers made history this season becoming the first team in school history to reach the District 1-AAA final before falling to Gwynedd Mercy in the title game.
“The hardest part is seeing those five seniors leave, they were a great group,’ Santori said. “They were a fantastic group.’
Bossler finished with nine points on three 3-pointers in her first game against her former teammates. The Arcadia commit, who transferred her junior season after scoring 554 points in her first two seasons at Berks Catholic, converted two of her treys at critical junctures. Her first made it 45-44 before she hit for another minutes later to make it 52-51.
“(Playing Berks Catholic) wasn’t as weird as I thought it was going to be, it wasn’t bad at all,’ Bossler said. “It was good to finally see all of them after two years and I wish them the best of luck with everything.’
“We didn’t take it any different (playing against Bossler),’ Berks Catholic head coach Bob Birmingham said. “She’s a great player, she’s a great kid. They have a nice team, good shooters you can’t leave open. I thought we did a good job of guarding her but we didn’t do anything different in this game than we normally do when we face a good shooter.’
Berks Catholic moves on to the second round to face District 3 champion Greencastle-Antrim Wednesday. Brooke Wensel paced the team with a game-high 20 points while Mikayla Lea scored 15 off the bench as the Saints withstood a mini PJP run in the first quarter before expanding a 21-15 lead into a 38-25 lead heading into the break.
The lead had expanded to 45-25 courtesy of two buckets from Courtney Wensel (13 points) before PJP went on the aforementioned 19-0 run to cut it to 45-44 early in the fourth. However, after Bossler’s second 3-pointer made it 52-51, the Saints responded.
Devon Merritt, held in check for the majority of the game by PJP’s Widdicombe and Wilson, upped the lead to 54-51 with a tough putback before a Lea layup and Courtney Wensel tough jumper made it 58-51 with 1:43 remaining.
Following a Wilson putback and Troisi layup that cut it to 58-55, Brooke Wensel sealed the game from the free throw line, converting on all four attempts to make it 62-57 with under five seconds remaining to put it out of reach.
“We let them come all the way back but we just came together and said ‘ guys this isn’t going to happen, let’s just keep pushing, take our time with the ball,” Brooke Wensel said. “It worked out good.’
“I think our kids did a nice job keeping their composure there at the end,’ Birmingham said. “We want to get Brooke the ball at the end of the game when they’re fouling because she’s a great foul shooter. She did a nice job of that tonight.’
NOTES — Freshman Allison Thomas made an impact for PJP as she hit for eight points with Widdicombe and Wilson in foul trouble early. … PJP fell to Archbishop Wood 60-39 in the 2013 PIAA-AAA first round. … Troisi finished with 11 rebounds. … PJP shot 3-for-10 from the free throw line. … Merritt, the Saints’ leading scorer averaging 17.7 ppg, was limited to four points in the win.