Cardinals fly into states: Upper Dublin downs CB East to reach District 1-6A 9th place game

UPPER DUBLIN >> Central Bucks East was unshakeable for three quarters, but Upper Dublin broke free in the fourth, finding its way to a state-tournament berth Wednesday night.

By the time Jess Polin found Nicole Kaiser driving the baseline for an easy two, an already raucous crowd could officially start to celebrate on “Fan Appreciation Night.”

“It feels really good that the team’s going to states, and it happened on a night like this with the crowd like that,” said a smiling Kaiser afterwards.

Upper Dublin’s 55-34 victory over East sends the Cardinals to the District 1-6A ninth place game Friday against Perkiomen Valley, a 60-53 winner over Downingtown East. The Patriots face Downingtown East to decide the 11th and final spot in states.

Ninth-seeded Upper Dublin (21-5) outscored the 12th-seeded Pats 22-5 in the fourth quarter Wednesday night.

“We had a lot of talks in practice, and we met in coach (Morgan) Funsten’s room after school, talking about being able to finish out games and wanting it more than the other team. And I think that really showed tonight.”

States is a tradition at Upper Dublin – make it four years in a row and five of the last six for the Cardinals flying to PIAA’s.

“It never gets hold,” Funsten said. “For our four seniors (Kaiser, Maggie Weglos, Lindsey Schreiber, Kayla Wolf), this is their fourth year in a row doing it. I’ve never had a group that was able to accomplish that.

“We’re really excited about closing it out and making our trip to states.”

Polin got the fourth-quarter surge going with a three, then used a pretty drive down the lane to extend the lead. Kaiser scored off a rebound and the margin was at double digits.

Kaiser scored a game-high 23 points for Upper Dublin and Jackie Vargas added 10 underneath. Also, freshmen Dayna Balasa (8 pts), Polin (7 pts) and Sarah Eskew (5 pts) were key down the stretch.

“Our freshmen really stepped up,” Kaiser said, “and it was nice to finally close out a close game like that.”

The two teams went back and forth through a tight first quarter.

A deep three by Bailey McManus gave the Patriots (16-10) a 10-6 lead before Upper Dublin went on an 8-1 run that overlapped into the second.

A nifty drive to the hoop by Eskew got it started, and the Cardinals closed out the first quarter when a persistent Vargas followed up her own rebound to give Upper Dublin a 12-11 edge. Vargas would bring down a team-high eight rebounds in the victory.

Kaiser continued her strong play, hitting a three to give the Cards a 17-15 lead early in the second. A drive by Kaiser, who had 13 points in the first half, widened the margin to 21-15.

Back came East.

McManus continued to hit threes, sinking two in a row to tie the contest at 21. McManus and Elyse Shine each finished with nine points for East.

Eskew drove the baseline, scored and was fouled, and she hit the ensuing free throw to give Upper Dublin a 24-21 advantage. Skylar Krause countered, hitting a baby jumper for East, making it a 24-23 game at the half.

Upper Dublin led by as many as eight in the third. Kaiser scored off a rebound, Balasa hit a three, ushering in chants of “she’s a freshman,” and Vargas later found Balasa down low.

But East came back again, baskets by Caroline Pla and Gina Russo drawing the Pats to within 33-29 after three.

Upper Dublin was ready for its run.

“I thought our energy all night was good,” Funsten said, “especially on the offensive end. We talked about playing very simple, making simple decisions instead of trying to do too much.

“It was kind of the perfect storm in the fourth quarter with perimeter shots and some layups and executing our offense.”

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