DOYLESTOWN >> When the going gets tough, the ball goes to Jess Polin.
With Central Bucks West finding its shot and putting together a fourth quarter rally Saturday afternoon, Upper Dublin turned to its fourth-year starting point guard to guide it to the finish. The senior came through, hitting a key shot, dishing a crucial assist and knocking down the sealing free throws as the Cardinals closed the game strong.
Polin’s steady hand, another solid game from Amy Ngo and stout defense added up as Upper Dublin held off the Bucks for a 37-31 win to close out the week.
“What we were preaching this game was just to stay calm,” Polin said. “With CB West, we know it’s always going to be a battle.
“We haven’t had much success in this gym so we knew staying calm and composed would be huge today.”
Polin had 11 points and six assists, none bigger than the one she dished to Bliss Brenner on a cut for a layup that gave UD a 32-29 lead with 3:20 to play following a 9-2 Bucks run. In a game between two very good defensive teams, it’s usually a matter of execution that determines the outcome and Upper Dublin figured it out when it needed to.
A hot start behind the 3-point line also helped as the Cardinals came out shooting to a 4-of-6 tune from deep with Ngo hitting a pair that gave UD the lead for the rest of the day. The freshman guard led all scorers with 13 points off the bench and fit the day’s theme of taking what was given by scoring three baskets off cuts.
“I just had to be strong with the ball and play my game,” Ngo said. “Once we hit our shots in the beginning, it showed them we could make our threes so we had to show we could also make our inside shots.”
A three by Polin and a basket from Geena Sarnoski gave UD a 20-13 lead early in the second quarter but the Bucks weren’t going away. In Friday’s win over Abington, Cardinals coach Morgan Funsten pointed to offensive rebounding as an area his team struggled with.
That carried over into the first half, with West ripping down seven offensive boards and none bigger than the third-chance basket Paige Gilbert willed in while being fouled and falling out of bounds. The senior guard capped the three-point play, making it a 20-18 game but UD responded with Polin finding a cutting Ngo for the last hoop of the half.
“Limiting their chances as much as we did in the second half was the key,” Funsten said. “A major emphasis for us was to keep them off the offensive glass, I don’t think we were that good at it in the first half but the second half was like night-and-day. With the energy they play with, they can rely on second chance points so we had to limit those chances.”
Gilbert and Emily Spratt, the engines that power West, found their paths rather obstructed throughout the afternoon on Saturday. UD’s Bliss Brenner and Sarah Eskew kept the Bucks duo from getting any momentum going to the rim, which not only made it harder for them to score but to find teammates open off the perimeter.
Spratt led West with 10 points and added six boards while Gilbert scored seven and powered down 12 rebounds playing with her usual whatever-it-takes energy. West was held to just two points in the third quarter but finally found some space in the fourth thanks to some outside shooting that fueled a 9-2 run to get back in the game.
“Morgan’s got a machine at Upper Dublin,” West coach Zach Sibel said. “They’re so fine-tuned on cuts and reads and against a team like that you have to be darn near perfect because they burn you when you make a mistake. I think we did a better job in the second half making those adjustments, there’s still a learning curve for some of our girls but that’s the kind of game you want to play.”
Katie Finnan and Anna Blue hit 3-pointers to start the final quarter before Gilbert stepped in to take a charge against Polin with 5:43 left. West had a chance to take the lead with a three on the ensuing possession, but the shot was off and Dayna Balasa came up with a big rebound, setting up a basket by Polin on the other end for a 30-26 lead.
The Bucks responded with a big score as Gilbert got in then kicked out to Maggie McGarry, who buried a long three to cut the Cardinals lead to one with 4:18 remaining.
“We’ve had back-to-back grind out games that have come down to the last two minutes, it’s hard to do that but it’s just the nature of the beast this year,” Sibel said. “We’ll look back at this week, we get two out of three and we get to learn and keep improving. You never like losses but these are the ones you learn from.”
Upper Dublin patiently worked the clock on the next possession before Brenner gave the ball up to Polin then took off on a beeline for the basket. No sooner had she set her feet on the catch, Polin whipped a bounce pass to Brenner who finished the layup.
“It was a huge basket, just a great finish by Bliss,” Polin said. “They were very up and aggressive, so sometimes that backdoor cut is there. She got open and I was able to hit her.”
“Having Polin on the floor is such a luxury,” Funsten said. “When teams are trying to take away your strength, she’s so versatile she can take advantage of it. She really had some good reads today.”
The game wasn’t over, but UD took a big step in the right direction when Balasa came up with a key steal following Brenner’s layup. Brenner shortly found her way to the line, knocking down two free throws before Polin sealed the win with a pair of free throws.
“For a season that’s been chaotic and where we’re not guaranteed games, our chemistry has been really good,” Polin said. “It’s been helping us a lot. I think even when lose, we’re still going to be connected and still have that great chemistry on the court.”
UPPER DUBLIN 37, CB WEST 31
UPPER DUBLIN 15 9 4 9 – 37
CB WEST 13 5 2 11 – 31
Upper Dublin: Amy Ngo 5 1-2 13, Bliss Brenner 1 2-2 4, Jess Polin 3 3-4 11, Sarah Eskew 0 2-2 2, Dayna Balasa 1 0-0 3, Geena Sarnoski 2 0-0 4. Totals: 12 8-10 37.
CB West: Emily Spratt 4 2-4 10, Katie Finnan 1 0-0 3, Anna Blue 1 0-0 3, Maggie McCusker 2 0-0 6, Paige Gilbert 3 1-1 7, Tai Henkels 1 0-0 2. Totals: 12 3-5 31.
3-pointers: UD – Ngo 2, Polin 2, Balasa; CBW – McCusker 2, Blue, Finnan.