Spring-Ford survives CB East at buzzer, books third straight district semifinal trip

ROYERSFORD >> The ball spun around the rim as the red light on the backboard signaled the end of regulation.

If it dropped through the net, Spring-Ford and Central Bucks East would head to overtime. If not, the Rams would advance to the District 1 Class 6A semifinals for a third consecutive year.

Ultimately, Gabby Wilga’s shot spun out as time expired, allowing Spring-Ford to escape with a 44-42 win in Saturday’s 6A quarterfinal and return to the District semifinals yet again.

It was a fitting ending for a game that saw Spring-Ford’s big-game experience make the smallest of differences in moving on in the District 1 tournament.

Lucy Olsen’s short jumper with 27 seconds remaining was her only basket of the second half, but broke the last of the game’s five tie scores for good. Olsen finished with 13 points, just one behind team scoring leader Skylar Sullivan (14 points.) Abbey Boyer had 11 for the Rams.

CB East got a huge performance from Emily Chmiel (18 points, 13 rebounds) while Mia Salvati’s seven points all came in the final quarter, allowing the Patriots to close a nine-point deficit from the late third quarter.

“I think we showed we can play with them, and with anybody,” said CB East coach Liz Potash.

“But it’s not just the final shot — we missed  some opportunities throughout the game, missed some foul shots. It all comes back to hurt you (in a close loss.)”

Spring-Ford’s Abbey Boyer and Central Bucks East’s Mia Salvati battle for a loose ball in the late stages of their District 1-6A quarterfinal Saturday. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Olsen’s winning shot came following a second half in which CB East forced Spring-Ford to find alternative scoring options after the junior point guard accounted for half the Rams’ 22 first-half points. Spring-Ford found those points from seniors Sullivan, Boyer, and Gabs Alessandroni, but went back to Olsen with the game in the balance.

“My teammates picked up in the second half,” said Olsen. “I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about who’s scoring the points, the focus is getting the win.”

The win places the 21-3 and third-seeded Rams into Wednesday’s night semifinals at Wissahickon High School against second-seeded Central Bucks West, which defeated 10th-seeded North Penn, 68-59, on Saturday.

With a third consecutive trip to the state tournament in hand to go along with their Pioneer Athletic Conference three-peat, the Rams’ focus turns to claiming District 1 supremacy, a status that has eluded their grasp in recent years.

For the Rams, this is the point where things have gone awry the previous two years. In 2018 and 2019, the Rams dropped district semifinals and made earlier-than-expected exits from the PIAA state tournament.

Can this year’s squad break the spell, taking Spring-Ford to its first district final since 2014 and putting the Rams into the driver’s seat for state title contention?

“We need to bring the same energy we had today,” said Olsen. “We’ve been there before, we know we need to play together and have the right winning mentality.”

Spring-Ford’s Alyssa Yuan (4) puts up a shot against Central Bucks East defenders Emily Chmiel (30) and Gabby Wilga (15). (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Everyone starts fresh in states, but recent years have proven that seeding matters — particularly in a loaded District 1. In 2018 and 2019, the teams that upended the Rams — Central Bucks South and Garnet Valley, respectively — made runs to the PIAA championship game after qualifying for the District 1 finals.

The opening half featured a seesaw battle with the lead changing hands five different times. Both squads established their respective leading scorers, Chmiel leading CB East with nine points and leading an offensive rebounding effort that kept several possessions alive.

For the hosts, Olsen was able to get to the rim repeatedly, converting a pair of layups and making all four free throws that resulted from further forays. Boyer’s first of three 3-pointers got SF into double digits at the end of the first quarter, while Sullivan had six first-half points for the Rams, who led 22-18 at the break.

Spring-Ford was able to neutralize the Patriots’ rebounding advantage in the second half, thanks in large part to Sullivan and Alyssa Yuan, who committed themselves to doubling on the 6-foot-2 Chmiel. Spring-Ford’s effort showed as CB East was unable to find Chmiel on the game’s final possession.

“We’ve worked on dropping down, helping towards the ball,” said Sullivan. “Rebounding is always the top priority, and we were able to get it turned around today.”

CB East, now 17-8, will play in a playback game this week to determine seeding for the PIAA 6A tournament. The 11th-seeded Patriots clinched their spot by upending sixth-seeded Ridley on Wednesday.

Without a single senior on their roster, every bit of postseason experience in 2020 will help the Patriots going forward, but Coach Potash isn’t writing off the possibility of doing some damage this season either.

“We’ll see where it goes,” she said, “but our goal is to win as many possible. Our goal was to get to states, but that’s not the end. We want to win some games too.”

Spring-Ford 44

Central Bucks East 42

CB EAST: Wilga 2 0-0 5, Salvati 2 2-2 7, Duffy 1 1-2 3, Chmiel 4 10-15 18, Barry 1 0-0 2, DeAngelis 3 0-0 7, Totals 13 13-19 42.

SPRING-FORD: Boyer 4 0-0 11, Olsen 4 4-4 13, Yuan 0 0-0 0, Alessandroni 1 1-3 4, Maloney 0 0-0 0, Sullivan 5 3-5 14, Hudak 0 0-0 0, Lee 1 0-0 2, Pufko 0 0-0 0, Totals 15 8-12 44.

CB East 10 8 12 12-42
Spring-Ford 10 12 12 10-44

3-point goals: DeAngelis, Salvati, Wilga, Boyer 3, Alessandroni, Olsen, Sullivan.

Spring-Ford’s Abbey Boyer is fouled as she throws a pass in the late stages against Central Bucks East. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
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