O’Donnell, Lebisky deliver game-winning moment as Phoenixville defeats Spring-Ford for first PAC championship since 2007

COLLEGEVILLE — Earlier this season, junior Brady O’Donnell was mostly out of the Phoenixville basketball varsity rotation, stuck primarily on the Phantoms’ JV squad.

Fast forward to Wednesday night, and the reserve guard found himself making the game-winning assist on a Max Lebisky layup with 1.6 seconds left, breaking a tie and delivering No. 2 seed Phoenixville a thrilling 54-52 victory over reigning champion Spring-Ford for its first league title since 2007 — when O’Donnell, Lebisky and company were still in diapers or not even born yet.

“Oh my God,” O’Donnell repeated twice after the game was over and the Phantoms had taken turns cutting down one of the nets at Perkiomen Valley. “So much adrenaline, so much fun. It was a back-and-forth game, and we knew if we stayed together we were going to win the game, and that’s what we did.”

Phoenixville breaks the postgame huddle after defeating Spring-Ford in the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

O’Donnell came off the bench to score five points, making his only two shots and finding Lebisky on a perfect bounce pass in the lane when the Spring-Ford defender assigned to Lebisky drifted over to try to thwart O’Donnell’s path to the rim. In a second half that featured five ties and 11 lead changes, it was only fitting that this instant classic of a basketball game would come down to a game-winning shot. Spring-Ford standout EJ Campbell’s three-quarter court heave as time ran out was off the mark.

“Time was running out pretty fast, and when I took the ball at the top of the key I knew everyone was going to focus on Max,” O’Donnell said. “I drove into the lane, and I saw his defender step up, so I dished it off and Max finished it off like he always does. When I was driving I thought about shooting, but then I decided to just make the easier play.”

Phoenixville senior Max Lebisky, who scored the game-winning basket, cuts his piece of the net during the postgame celebration after defeating Spring-Ford in the title game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

It was the cherry on top of another brilliant game in a season full of them for Lebisky, who shot 6 of 7 from the field and 5 of 6 from the foul line for 17 points.

“That certainly was not how we drew it up, more just taking what the defense gave us,” Lebisky said of the final play. “That was a hell of a pass from Brady just reading the defense the way he did. I’m happy it happened that way. We’ve been working our butts off, so to have that rewarding feeling pay off, it’s amazing.”

Phoenixville captured the program’s third PAC title ever and first in head coach Eric Burnett’s 10 seasons. The Phantoms became the first Frontier Division team to win a PAC final since 2011 when Pope John Paul II defeated Spring-Ford (PJP won the 2021 title when no tournament was played due to COVID-19).

After the game, Phoenixville coach Burnett recounted O’Donnell’s journey from out of the varsity rotation to championship game hero. Burnett said the junior reserve had a solid summer, but still found himself as an in-between player, so the two had an honest conversation about O’Donnell’s role moving forward. Burnett told O’Donnell that the team needed him if it was going to get where it wanted to go.

“We just had a walk-and-talk about him coming out, doing his thing and playing with more confidence,” Burnett said. “Since then, he’s been our glue guy. He does so many things well. He can play multiple positions, he’s physical, he can handle the ball. He’s locked in, and I can’t say enough positive things about him.”

The Phoenixville boys basketball team breaks the huddle during the PAC championship game against Spring-Ford on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
Phoenixville’s Christian Cervino steals the ball from Spring-Ford’s Oben Mokonchu during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

And while he may get lost in the shuffle of the chaotic final few seconds, sophomore Dawson Brown also had an unbelievable game in scoring a team-high 18 points, 13 of which came after halftime. The Phantoms only trailed 23-21 heading into the break, but Brown’s shot-making ability injected energy into his team, which was needed considering how many big shots of their own that Spring-Ford’s Jacob Nguyen and Campbell hit.

Brown scored eight points in the third quarter, including two of his three 3-pointers. In the fourth, he hit another triple to give the Phantoms a 49-48 advantage, and when Campbell scored the next time down the floor, Brown hit another big bucket to swing the lead back to 51-50. Lebisky then went 1-for-2 from the line, and Campbell hit a pair of free throws with 21.3 seconds to play to knot the score back up and set the stage for Lebisky and O’Donnell’s big moment.

“I’m not surprised about the games those guys had,” Burnett said of O’Donnell and Brown. “They were going back-and-forth making big plays, staying locked in and focused. They’re super mentally tough kids who put the work in, and tonight was their opportunity to go out and show it.”

For Spring-Ford, the league’s top seed, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow. Fresh off a game-high 23 points against Perkiomen Valley in the semifinals last week, Nguyen one-upped himself by posting 26 points on 9 of 14 shooting, including a 5 of 8 clip from downtown. A couple of his treys were from NBA range, and he crossed the 1,000-point threshold in the process.

“He’s such a terrific kid,” Spring-Ford head coach Joe Dempsey said of Nguyen. “A great player and an all-time guard, but an even better kid. He’s such a hard worker and a great teammate. The kids love him, and he’s only a junior and he broke a thousand. Hopefully, he stays healthy. I’m very lucky to coach a kid like that; he’s a once-in-a-career kid.”

Spring-Ford’s Jacob Nguyen (3) drives past Phoenixville’s Keron Booth during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Unfortunately for the Rams (18-6), who were looking to defend their PAC crown, they didn’t get much offense from anybody not named Nguyen or Campbell, who started slow but finished strong. Campbell hit two 3-pointers on Spring-Ford’s final two possessions of the third quarter — including one at the buzzer — to turn a six-point deficit into a tie game, then started the fourth quarter with another deep triple. He finished with 19 points, but the next-highest Spring-Ford scorer after him was Tommy Kelly’s four.

“Two guys did most of our scoring, so the defense was sagging off of the others,” Dempsey said. “We’ve got to figure that out. We’re disappointed, but I’m proud of my kids. That game could have gone either way. Somebody had to lose, and it came down to one play. We’re resilient, and we’ll bounce back. I’m proud of the way we didn’t buckle.”

Spring-Ford, the No. 3 seed in the District 1 6A tournament, will next be in action on Feb. 20 at home against the winner of Garnet Valley and Harriton.

As for the Phantoms (18-6), they will enjoy this one on cloud nine for a day or two before turning their attention to their own district tournament, where they will be the No. 4 seed in the 5A bracket. Phoenixville will play the winner of Pottstown and West Chester East on Feb. 21 at home.

The Phoenixville student section celebrates after Max Lebisky scored the game-winning basket to defeat Spring-Ford in the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)
The Phoenixville boys basketball team poses with the PAC championship plaque after defeating Spring-Ford in the title game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

As they see it, after Wednesday night’s jubilation, the Phantoms are just getting started.

“We’re definitely not done,” Lebisky said. “I think we’re playing our best basketball right now. I don’t know who we’re going to play, but at home I like our chances against anyone.”

O’Donnell concurred with his star teammate.

“This is definitely just the beginning,” he said. “I knew coming into this game that if we beat Spring-Ford, then we would have a great shot to win districts. There’s plenty of good teams, but Spring-Ford is up there. Knowing I can play well against them means I can play that way against any team in the area.

“We’re a bunch of dogs, and to get Coach Burnett his first PAC title — it means everything.”

Phoenixville 54, Spring-Ford 52

Phoenixville 13 8 18 15 – 54

Spring-Ford 16 7 16 13 – 52

Phoenixville: Baratta 2 0 0-0 4, Brown 4 3 1-1 18, Cervino 0 1 0-0 3, Lebisky 6 0 5-6 17, McClintock 2 0 1-2 5, O’Donnell 1 1 0-0 5, Booth 1 0 0-0 2. Totals 16 5 7-9 54

Spring-Ford: Kelly 1 0 2-2 4, Nguyen 4 5 3-3 26, Campbell 3 3 4-4 19, Dellangelo 0 0 0-0 0, Mokonchu 0 0 1-2 1, Marsilio 1 0 0-0 2, Turner 0 0 0-0 0, Pufko 0 0 0-0 0, Green 0 0 0-0 0. Totals 9 8 10-11 52

Spring-Ford’s EJ Campbell finishes at the basket against Phoenixville’s Aidan McClintock during the PAC championship game on Feb. 14 at Perkiomen Valley. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

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