Abington doubles up on District 1-6A gold

Saturday was a fantastic night for Abington basketball.
A packed house at Villanova’s Pavilion saw the best of “the ‘Bing,” as it’s dubbed by some of its inhabitants, as the Galloping Ghosts captured the District 1-6A boys’ and girls’ championships. It was the first time since Upper Dublin in 1985 that one school swept the district in the biggest classification.
The hope is that it was only the beginning.
Abington’s boys, who won their second district title in the last three seasons, begin their state playoff run on Saturday against Central Dauphin East in a 4pm tip at Bensalem. Charles Grasty’s Ghosts were pegged by many as a preseason favorite to hoist the trophy, led by standouts sophomore Eric Dixon and junior Robbie Heath.
Dan Marsh’s girls’ team won its first title since 2010 and had a decidedly different path, falling to 4-3 after one very bad week in December and pretty much hitting the reset button on the whole season. The girls start state play on Friday night, when they also face Central Dauphin East in a 7pm tip and also at Bensalem.
The players weren’t alone at Villanova, they were backed by a huge crowd of white-clad students who got to celebrate two rushes of jubilant champions.

Abington’s Robbie Heath tries to get a shot over Coatesville’s Tyrel Bladen during the second half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington’s Lucas Monroe celebrates after blocking a shot during the first half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington’s Joe O’Brien hauls down a rebound in the first half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington’s Eric Dixon fights for position as he tries to get off a shot during the second half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
This Abington fan tries to pump up the crowd after getting escorted out by Radnor Police during the second half. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington players celebrate with the student section after defeating Coatesville in the District 1 Class 6A title game. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington senior Elizabeth O’Leary holds up the trophy while her teammates surround her after the Ghosts won the District One Class 6A Championship on Saturday. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
The Abington girls basketball team claimed the District One Class 6A Championship on Saturday night with a 62-57 win over Plymouth-Whitemarsh inside The Pavilion at Villanova University. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Members of the Abington girls basketball teams and the cheerleaders take to the court to celebrate Saturday’s win over Plymouth-Whitemarsh in the District One Class 6A Championship. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington’s Elizabeth O’Leary (12) and Sam Brusha (33) take it all in moments after the Ghosts won the District One Class 6A Championship at Villanova University on Saturday. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Abington senior Elizabeth O’Leary holds up the trophy while her teammates surround her after the Ghosts won the District One Class 6A Championship on Saturday. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)
Members of the Abington girls basketball team flock together after claiming the District One Class 6a Championship on Saturday against Plymouth-Whitemarsh. (Sam Stewart – Digital First Media)

“It’s what you play for, I’m glad we got this win and were able to make the school proud,” Heath said right after his 30-point performance against Coatesville. “Our student section comes everywhere, we always have a great student section, but them filling up half the bloody stadium, it was just great.”
Last week, the boys won their semifinal game at Temple with plenty of the girls’ players mixed in the student section. A night later, the girls won their third straight game against a higher seed at Bensalem and plenty of the boys’ players were in the crowd.
“It’s something that a lot of the community that was out here will remember for a long time,” Grasty said Saturday. “We always tell the guys, basketball is important but there are a lot of way more important things in life than putting a ball in a basket and this showed them. We tell them these things over and over and over is this is a product of it. They’ll have kids that were here looking up to them for a long time.”
The Ghost boys knew they were going to have a good team this year, and they rolled to their fifth straight SOL National title, going undefeated in the conference. Their nonconference slate however, did raise a couple questions. Abington topped Chester and Archbishop Carroll, both 5A state qualifiers, but lost to backyard rival Cheltenham and dropped lopsided games to PCL finalist Neumann-Goretti and Catholic League champion Archbishop Wood.
In the gym however, there wasn’t concern.
“People were coming to me saying how crazy I was and what was I thinking,” Grasty said. “I had to tell them it would help us down the line and it did. We saw a lot of really good basketball throughout the season. We saw a kid from Neumann-Goretti (Quade Green) that’s going to Kentucky, and a Villanova kid, we saw Collin Gillespie go nuts. We saw him early when people were still kind of skeptical of how good he was but we were saying he’s a heck of a player and we challenged our guys against him.
“They were disappointed, which I wanted to see. I wanted to see how they would respond to that.”
While the boys were throwing themselves into a buzzsaw of a schedule, the girls were trying to figure out if they would even make playoffs. The Ghosts have one senior, Lizzie Oleary, and for a little while, it looked like her fear of a bad senior year was coming true.
When Oleary was in eighth grade, she thought her senior year wouldn’t see any success but Marsh had a different vision.
“This team came together after a struggle in the beginning,” Oleary said. “I’m so proud they didn’t give and came back to work harder and work better. Everything changed and we knew this is what we were going to do.”
Abington accomplished a rare feat on Saturday and both programs want to make the most of it.
“It’s here, it’s reality,” Grasty said. “We told them don’t run from it, embrace it.”
Mount Saint Joseph had been playing really well going into Saturday’s District I final against Springfield Delco.
While the top-seeded Cougars earned that spot and their eventual district 5A title, the Magic didn’t look like the side that had gutted out a couple of overtime games to make its way to Villanova. Mount had its share of ups and downs during the season, but the Magic need to find that spark again before their state opener against Archbishop Carroll.
“We, not that we started believing, but we knew we could get here,” Mount coach Claire Perry said. “Those tough wins and actually pulling through had us believing we could get this even though we weren’t suppsoed to. We’re a seven seed, (Springfield) is a number one seed, so there’s a reason they did what they did.”
Perry, in her first year coaching at her alma mater, took over a roster that was hit hard by graduation. Mount has five seniors on the roster this year, Kieran Glowacki, Sarah Rothenberg, Grace Gelone, Julie Hoover and Ashley Smith, and they’ve been the ones helping set the tone all season.
Mount isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but they kept working at it and along with its usually stout defense, found some things that worked.
Perry said the run the Magic made to Villanova should be what gets them reorganized for states. The players can do it, they just have to believe it.
“It took time and that’s why it was cool to see us go as far as we did in districts,” Perry said. “It took us a while to adjust and transition but they got in, they believed it and it started working. There’s a reason why we’re here and that’s what we kept telling them. We didn’t get here by luck.”
Abington isn’t the only team that’s had a raucous following through the postseason.
Upper Dublin’s girls’ team has had tremendous support during its run through the playback bracket and even going back to its first and second round games, the latter on the road at CB West. The Cardinals are going into states on a three-game winning streak and coach Morgan Funsten said the support of the students was an important part of that.
“The ride and the fans, there’s a picture of our fan section and we had almost 300 students in our fan section for a ninth-place district game,” Funsten said. “For our girls to be able to finish a game in such a special atmosphere for their last home game, although it was a game that in the big picture wasn’t the most important because we had already qualified, it meant the world to us because of the environment,”
Upper Merion had a very impressive showing for the 5A boys’ final on Saturday at Villanova. While the Vikings took a heartbreaking loss to Penncrest in the final, they drew a great crowd in the final and their semifinal Wednesday at Temple.
With their first-round state game at Cheltenham on Friday night, expect a lot of UM faithful to be out again.

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