Casey’s Place: Lansdale Catholic makes history with PIAA-4A title win over Blackhawk

HERSHEY >> Gabby Casey hopped up and down on the Giant Center logo, her arms raised skyward waiting for Olivia Boccella to get to her.

For three years, the two have been the best of friends on and off the court, they’ve seen the lowest of lows with a two-win season and finally had reached the highest of highs. Casey, the program’s most accomplished player and scorer, had turned in yet another monumental performance pushing LC to a height it had never  seen before while still managing to find Boccella for the game’s biggest shot, which the junior hit because that’s just what she does.

Casey scored 28 points, adding 16 rebounds as she and Lansdale Catholic won their first state title, downing a tough and resilient Blackhawk team 53-45 on Saturday in Hershey.

“I think really  the feelings won’t set in until I see everything we accomplished all together,” Casey, state medal draped around her neck, said. “I’m excited for St. Joe’s, but I’m looking forward to coming back. I still want to be around in the summer, help out with the little kids and camps, make appearances at practices. This team is my home.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Olivia Boccella (11, left) and Gabby Casey (15) hug as the Crusaders storm the court to celebrate their victory over Blackhawk in the PIAA-4A championship game on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Giant Center in Hershey. (MIke Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

Lansdale Catholic’s win completed a triple crown for the team, finishing a historic season that brought home not only the inaugural state title, but the program’s first-ever Philadelphia Catholic League championship and a District 12 title, something LC didn’t have a whole lot of either.

Whatever LC needed, Casey provided. Blackhawk tried just about everything, asking four or five different players to try and slow down the Catholic League’s MVP. There were a few wins, Casey committing a few more turnovers than usual but in general the LC senior did what she’s made a career out of by  getting to a spot and scoring.

There were fadeaways in the lane, a couple threes and a lot of someone really determined not to go home losing a second straight state final putting her head down and getting to the rim.

Lansdale Catholic’s Gabby Casey (15) puts up a shot against Blackhawk during the PIAA-4A final on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Giant Center in Hershey. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

“When you’re playing a good player like that, eventually she is going to get going,” Cougars coach Steve Lodovico said. “I thought we did a good job on her on the first quarter but she’s going to get loose.  I give their coaching staff a lot of credit, they got her in a lot of iso situations and she’s tough to defend, she’s strong and she gets you down in the post.”

Lodovico and his squad deserve plenty of props for their efforts, not just on Saturday but the postseason at large. Blackhawk lost its top player, Quinn Borroni, to injury before the postseason but rallied to make its first PIAA title game since 2015.

The Cougars also gave LC all it could handle, riding a scorching hot start to the second quarter to a seven-point lead and even down 10 late in the game, clawed to get back within one before Casey closed out her career the only way she would accept.

In fact, Blackhawk was playing so well in the first half that Sanyiah Littlejohn felt compelled to do something about it. Cougars junior Alena Fusetti was giving LC fits, so in a timeout midway through the second quarter, the Crusaders’ lockdown ace spoke up, asking coach Eric Gidney to guard Fusetti.

“She kept hitting threes and I thought, I’m the best defensive player on our team so I had to go and take over,” Littlejohn said. “She was very physical and hitting pull-up jumpers, so I took that away and denied her the whole game.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Gabby Casey (15) and Jaida Helm (2) hoist the PIAA championship trophy while Alana Ciccocelli (1) holds a giant Hershey bar as the Crusaders celebrate after their victory over Blackhawk in the PIAA-4A final on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the

Littlejohn had nine points and her defensive presence, alongside senior Jaida Helm, helped turn the tide of the game. Blackhawk was sharp offensively but once Helm and Littlejohn started blocking shots – Littlejohn notably sprinting down the floor after a layup to block Fuestti on the drive – the third quarter belonged to LC.

Helm ends her career a state champion, the forward sacrificing a lot of her offense with a new team and feeling grateful the Crusaders accepted and brought her into the fold.

“I like to win, I just want to do my best to put a team in position to win and I feel like I did that this year,” Helm said. “We felt like if we were more aggressive and physical, playing in the PCL it’s really aggressive, if we stayed to our game which I felt we went away from in the first half and got some blocks, we got in their heads and they didn’t want to come back in the lane.”

Lansdale Catholic’s Jaida Helm (2) puts up a shot against Blackhawk during the PIAA-4A final on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Giant Center in Hershey. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

LC trailed 30-27 when the run began. Casey started it, naturally, getting a hoop inside and after a turnover, the senior looked to be open on the left wing in good position to put up a three and try to take the lead.

Except, she didn’t because she saw something nobody else did. On the opposite wing was Boccella and with a laser of a crosscourt pass, Casey found the junior sharpshooter and Boccella buried the deep make to stake Lansdale Catholic to a 32-30 lead it wouldn’t give back.

“It feels like a dream honestly right now,” Boccella said. “Every game we step on the court, we do our handshake. We play for each other, we play for the team. It’s super-sad too, we’re best friends on and off the court, so it’s going to be horrible to see her go but I’m so excited for her at St. Joe’s.

“The hug at the end, I waited for her when we won the PCL and went right to her, we always look for each other. Even in the game, she’s the first person to look up when I’m open and I swear, every time I shoot a three, it’s her assist.”

The Lansdale Catholic girls basketball team celebrates with its student section after their win over Blackhawk in the PIAA-4A final on Saturday, Mach 25, 2023 at Giant Center in Hershey. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

The run turned into an 11-0 sprint to end the quarter, Casey netting six of them for a 38-30 lead going to the final frame of the season.

“I said ’15 (Casey) out there is outworking everybody for the glass, we gotta get a body on her,'” Lodovico said. “She kept giving them another opportunity to score. That’s why she is who she is.”

Casey’s clearly got the talent but what many don’t get to see is the countless time and work she’s put in to make the most of it. Hours in the gym, rebuilding a jumper as an underclassmen and knowing she couldn’t take a play off because everyone was looking to her to lead.

It’s something she inherited from her older brother Jimmy and parents Jim and Sherry watching them run the family business, Casey’s Place in Quakertown. Gabby, who gave a pretty good sell on the restaurant, had a tear-filled embrace with her mom after the game and she even got a few tears out of Jim, a hard feat to accomplish.

Lansdale Catholic’s Gabby Casey (15) puts up a shot against Blackhawk during the PIAA-4A final on Saturday, March 25, 2023 at the Giant Center in Hershey. (Mike Cabrey/MediaNews Group)

“I’ve never seen him cry before, it was cute,” Casey said. “They taught me to always be wanting more, keep working hard and hard work  prevails. My dad was my coach growing up in CYO, he’s the reason I got into basketball and he always texts me a big pregame message just to get out there and get it from the jump.

“My mom’s my biggest supporter, every game I love to see her and give her a big hug.”

Lansdale Catholic 53, Blackhawk 45
Lansdale Catholic 9 13 16 15 – 53
Blackhawk 8 17 5 15 – 45
Lansdale Catholic: Gabby Casey 13 0-1 28, Jaida Helm 1 1-2 3, Sanyiah Littlejohn 4 1-3 9, Nadia Yemola 2 0-0 2, Olivia Boccella 2 4-4 9. Totals: 22 6-10 53
Blackhawk: Alena Fusetti 7 3-4 20, Aubree Hupp 4 1-3 11, Kassie Potts 3 0-1 7, Haley Romigh 1 0-0 3, Piper Romigh 2 0-0 4. Totals: 17 4-8 45

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