FRANCONIA >> Battling through two and a half rugged quarters of basketball and a stern test from rival Souderton Area, North Penn took the lead for good late in the third quarter Tuesday night, when a pair of free throws by Sam Carangi fell through.
From there, North Penn’s defense kicked in, its offense found consistency, and the Lady Knights clinched the Suburban One League Continental Conference crown with a 48-37 victory over Big Red.
“It feels really good (to clinch) because Souderton’s been playing really well,” said Carangi, who finished tied for the game high in points with teammate Jess Huber, each scoring 11. “They’re a good team, fundamentally strong, so we knew we had to come out and take care of business tonight.”
Carangi scored seven of her 11 points in a pivotal stretch in the third, the first two coming off a pair of free throws, pushing NP in front, 28-27.
After a defensive stop by NP, Carangi nailed a three to widen the gap to 31-27, and she would also hit a jumper in the final minute of the period, giving the Lady Knights (19-2, 13-0 conference) a six-point cushion heading into the fourth.
“We had to really pick up on our defense,” Carangi said of that key stretch in the third, “because we try to keep our opponents to under 40 points, and they already were more than halfway there, so we had to really buckle down on defense and get stops to help our offense get going.
“Our defense started picking it up, getting more intense and active,” the junior guard said, “and that really helped us get easy points on offense.”
Senior forward Mikaela Giuliani had a big fourth quarter down low for the Lady Knights. Her basket on the first series of the period extended the margin to eight and she would later sink one of two free throws and score again underneath to give NP a 38-30 advantage.
Giuliani also saved a ball going out of bounds, leading to a drive to the hoop by Irisa Ye, making it 40-32 with three minutes to go.
Big Red (7-14, 4-9 conference) got to within 42-37 with 1:30 to play on a three by Marissa Sandone, but the Lady Knights put the game away at the foul line, two by Ye and two more by Carangi locking it up in the final 50 seconds.
“Souderton played very well,” North Penn coach Maggie deMarteleire said. “They play good defense, offensively they were hitting shots, and they always give us their best shot, especially here.”
Souderton’s been a “House of Horrors” for the Lady Knights in recent years, but they came out champions.
“I said to Mikaela, I don’t think we’ve ever been winning at halftime here, since she was a freshman,” deMarteleire said. “And we always expect Souderton to play really well. I was proud of our kids. I thought we played much better defense in the second half.”
Souderton Area took advantage of some North Penn turnovers along with timely shooting by Krista Schneider and Marissa Sandone to build a 22-19 lead at the half.
Schneider drained a pair of threes in the opening quarter for Big Red, which had leads of 5-0 and 15-10 early on.
A pullup jumper by Carangi put North Penn in front for the first time, 10-9, but Souderton closed out the first quarter with back-to-back threes by Sandone and Schneider.
Souderton led all through the second quarter, extending to a 22-17 advantage when Megan Walbrandt (team-high 11 points) came up with a steal underneath and put it up for two, but North Penn closed to within three at the break on a baseline jumper by Ye.
North Penn’s defense would allow just five points in the third quarter as the Lady Knights gained control.
NP closes out its conference schedule Thursday night with a home game against Hatboro-Horsham, while Souderton Area wraps up theirs with a game at Central Bucks East that same evening.