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Pennsbury freezes Owen J. Roberts in PIAA 6A second round

Pennsbury's Bella Arcuri takes a charge against Owen J. Roberts' Olivia LeClaire. (Austin Hertzog - MediaNews Group)

BENSALEM >> The Owen J. Roberts girls basketball team’s run to its first PIAA tournament has been marked by strong defense and rebounding. And clutch performances from a senior-led group.

And crossing its fingers that too frequent cold stretches on offense don’t show up.

In Tuesday’s PIAA 6A second round game, District 1 runner-up Pennsbury wasn’t just interested in an OJR cold stretch. The Falcons seemingly wanted to send the Wildcats into a deep freeze.

Pennsbury dropped a blizzard on OJR by only allowing nine first-half points while building a 15-point halftime lead and pulled away down the stretch in a 50-27 victory to advance to the PIAA quarterfinals Tuesday night at Bensalem High School.

The win over the Wildcats moved Pennsbury (23-5) into Friday’s state quarterfinals against Cardinal O’Hara. The Lions, the District 12 champs, defeated Spring-Ford in the first game of the doubleheader at Bensalem.

“It’s insane to think we’re about to play in the Elite 8,” said junior guard Bella Arcuri. “It’s only been done twice in school history and we get to be one of those teams. It’s awesome to see.”

Pennsbury’s Ava Sciotta tries to drive against Owen J. Roberts’ Gabbi Koury. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Arcuri sparked the Falcons’ blazing 11-0 start on the way to 10 points while sophomore Nicole Pompili had a team-high 12 points. Standout sophomore Ava Sciotta managed nine points on a night she was kept in check by OJR defensive stopper Maddi Koury.

Owen J. Roberts, which ended the best season in program history at 21-10, did not have a player in double figures in what was its lowest output of the season. Sophomore guard Avery White scored eight, senior forward Brooke Greenawald had seven while senior Olivia LeClaire was held to four points.

“We came out nervous. We couldn’t make a shot,” LeClaire said. “I think their switching on defense tripped us up a bit. We couldn’t put the ball in the basket.”

Pennsbury’s Bella Arcuri, right, passes out of trouble against Owen J. Roberts defender Avery White. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

The Falcons have rebounded from losing the District 1 final to Central Bucks West with PIAA playoff wins over District 3’s Red Lion and Owen J. Roberts, holding both opponents in the 20s.

“We win a lot of games on our defense,” Arcuri said. “It’s always defense, defense, defense. We work on it all the time at practice and it’s just one of our strong points.”

Arcuri had seven in the first quarter as Pennsbury jumped out to a 11-0 lead. OJR only got on the board on a Hannah Clay 3-pointer four minutes into the game.

Pennsbury’s Mia Spinelli drives against Owen J. Roberts’ Gabbi Koury. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

OJR had a chance to get into the game early in the second quarter but missed its first five free throws. Sciotta followed with her best stretch and Makayla Bethea hit a buzzer-beating corner 3 to send Pennsbury up 24-9 at halftime.

The Wildcats got as a close as 10 late in the third quarter, but the Falcons never allowed it closer as Pompili took over offensively while scoring all 12 of her points in the fourth.

“Our ball movement was great tonight, finding the open girl, getting the open shot and that’s a big part of our success,” Arcuri said.

It was a difficult way to go out for Owen J. Roberts, which made the state tournament and won a game (45-35 over Hazleton on March 6) for the first time. The season will be most noted for the Wildcats’ run through the district consolation bracket, running off three road victories over higher seeds to place ninth.

“We had bad days and good days, but everyone just kept going through every game,” said LeClaire, who capped her career as OJR’s all-time leading scorer. “I don’t think the beginning of the season looked too hot, but towards the end we kept grinding out game by game.

“I think we learned how to finish games, how to finish quarters and do it as a team rather than as individuals. Throughout the season, our chemistry got better and better.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Avery White shoots over Pennsbury defender. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

The goal for any coach is to have his team grow and progress through a season and 12th year coach Jeremy Mellon saw that with his Wildcats.

“They bought in so much to all the little things we had to do. After the loss to Boyertown in early December (to start 2-2), no one would have thought we’d have gotten here,” Mellon said. “In December, before we got back from Florida, we had to figure out our identity and who we wanted to be.

“At times we’re not the prolific offensive team and we need others to step up and make plays. But they just bought into the understanding that if you do the small things you will be successful.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Hannah Clay wipes away tears on the bench in the late stages of the Wildcats’ season-ending loss to Pennsbury. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

OJR’s senior class featuring starters LeClaire, Clay, Koury, Greenawald and reserves Emily Schall and Rory Cahill (injured) will go down as the class that made a breakthrough and set an example for future Wildcat teams.

“It’s hard, you try to explain to them how much of a path they’ve laid,” Mellon said. “I hope the younger players see the sacrifices that need to be made because they didn’t just show up. Liv, Maddi, Hannah, Brooke, Emily Schall, who was sick today, Rory, who has been out injured, they put a lot of sacrifice into this, open gyms, team camps. They’re a great group and I hope our younger kids learn something from them.”

Pennsbury 50, Owen J. Roberts 27

Owen J. Roberts: Clay 1 0-0 3, Friedmann 0 0-0 0, Sgarra 0 0-0 0, White 2 4-8 8, LeClaire 2 0-1 4, Vogelman 0 0-1 0, Hannum 0 0-0 0, Greenawald 3 1-3 7, M Koury 2 0-1 4, G Koury 0 0-0 0, Wasson 0 0-0 0, Clemson 0 0-0 0, Iyoob 0 1-2 1, Wentzel 0 0-0 0, Cunningham 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 6-16 27.
Pennsbury: Bethea 1 0-0 3, Sciotta 2 5-6 9, Nassitera 0 0-1 0, Haws 0 1-2 1, Arcuri 4 1-3 10, Dignam 0 0-0 0, Friel 0 0-0 0, Miller 3 2-2 8, Haley 0 1-2 1, Spinelli 0 3-4 3, Pompili 5 1-1 12, Dash 0 0-0 0, Roavey 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 15-23 50.
Owen J. Roberts 5 4 8 10 – 27
Pennsbury 13 11 5 21 – 50
3-pointers: Clay; Bethea, Arcuri, Pompili.

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