PHILADELPHIA >> Olivia Irons isn’t a crier, at least, she isn’t usually.
Yet the Central Bucks West senior couldn’t hold back a few tears after the final horn sounded at Temple on Saturday as she and her classmates accomplished the one thing they had all wanted for the past four years. As eighth graders, they watched the Bucks win a district title at the Liacouras Center and now, they had one to call their own.
In a very West-like way, the No. 2 Bucks used their defense and an ability to find enough points late to fend off No. 4 Pennsbury 42-38 at Temple to win their first District 1-6A title since 2015.
“They were just flowing,” Irons said. “I’m usually not a crier, so my teammates were busting on me a bit. This has been on our list of goals since the beginning of the season so to be able to check off every single goal so far, it just feels really good to work as hard as we do and be able to execute and come out with wins.”
The 2014-15 Bucks were led by a senior core featuring a future Big Ten player in Nicole Munger. The 2019-20 Bucks are led by a senior core featuring a future Big Ten player in Penn State-signed sniper Maddie Burke.
Burke helped the Bucks (24-4) get out to a fast start, connecting on two 3-pointers in the opening quarter. Her second, a lightning-quick catch and shoot off a pass from Irons, put West ahead 11-3 and while the senior didn’t have a big scoring game, she chipped in nine rebounds.
“I’m just so happy to do it with this team, we’re all so close,” Burke said. “We’ve become really close, the chemistry is there, we have so much fun together. Coming out in warmups, we were a little shaken up, it’s a big arena but it’s a cool experience, we adjusted and said ‘go out, have fun and smile.’”
West didn’t win the game in the second quarter, but it sure did a lot to help itself. With junior Paige Gilbert playing shadow defense on Falcons sophomore Ava Sciolla, the Bucks took away Pennsbury’s top option and held the Falcons to just a single point.
GIRLS BASKETBALL FINAL: (2) CB West 42, (4) Pennsbury 38
West again finds enough plays late to win, captures first District 1 title since 2014-15 season pic.twitter.com/KQpVipEI0y
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 29, 2020
Gilbert added four points in the quarter while a trey by Irons off a pass from Emily Spratt send West into the break leading 21-9. The Bucks knew a counterpunch was coming, but they had at least made the task tougher on Pennsbury.
“It was an extremely physical game, we attacked a lot but that’s a game that favors them, they’re a little older and have their size and strength,” Pennsbury coach Frank Sciolla said. “Paige Gilbert was effective on the backboard as she always is. They were physical with Ava, but she battled that and was able to hit shots when we had to try and come back.”
Frank Sciolla said the biggest thing the Falcons (22-5) needed at halftime was just to have a few other players start to score. If they got someone else going, then they could break the faceguard on Ava Sciolla and try to chip into the West lead.
Pennsbury won the third, but only by a 10-9 margin and trailed 30-19 with eight minutes on the board. A key play in the quarter came via another West senior with Jess Broskey pulling down a rebound on one end and capping the possession with a three on the other in the middle of a 7-0 run.
“It means everything, the other seniors and I, we waited four years and if that what it takes, four years of working hard and constantly being in the gym pushing each other, we’ll take it,” Broskey, holding the district trophy, said. “I remember watching Nicole Munger’s team succeed and thinking ‘I want to be like that someday at West basketball’ and that dream came true today.”
The Pennsbury run came in the fourth. Mary Miller hit two shots, Nicole Pompili hit a three and Sciolla connected on a turnaround in the lane during a 9-2 run in the first three-plus minutes of the fourth.
Gilbert gave West a little stand of momentum with three foul shots but another bucket by Miller cut the lead to 35-30 with 2:53 left.
“My mindset is do it for the team,” Gilbert said. “They all know I can make foul shots so I just have to believe in myself and they were all telling me ‘you got it,’ and if I missed one, they’re picking me right back up.”
West didn’t score from the field after Irons’ runner with 6:05 left but they were again able to convert at the line in a close game down the stretch. Gilbert was 4-of-6 while Spratt was 5-of-7 from the stripe in the fourth quarter with the duo combining for three of four after a Sciolla trey cut the lead to 38-33 with 47.7 to play.
“We had a couple chances, there was a little weirdness in the last four minutes of physicality and bodies flying around and they did a better job of it than we did,” Frank Sciolla said. “We always play hard, I’m understand of where we’ve come from and where we’re going to be. We have a week, we can work on things and try to make a run.”
“I was never nervous, we have a lot of trust in each other and we have all year,” Irons said. “We knew they were going to throw a punch, they’re a great team. We kept saying ‘keep getting stops,’ and staying focused. We were a little slow on the offensive end, but we knew the defensive end would pick us up.”
The end of the game brought split emotions for Frank Sciolla. On one hand, he felt for his players not being able to finish a great postseason run with a title but seeing one of his former players in first year West coach Zach Sibel celebrate, he also felt pride.
Sibel inherited a veteran team that felt it hadn’t played to its potential in years past. Before the season, the players drafted a board of team goals for the year and so far, they’ve checked off every single one of them.
“These girls give me a lot to be confident in, we’ve handled adversity this year and we knew Pennsbury wasn’t going away,” Sibel said. “These girls, they keep stepping up and keep doing their thing so if I looked calm, we’ll go with that.”
“I feel so good for him because he’s so passionate and the kids mean a great deal to him,” Sciolla said. “He coached tonight not because he wanted to say ‘I have a district title,’ he did it so those kids could say ‘we have a district title.’”
After getting their medals, the first place the Bucks took the trophy was the student section that has filled gyms through the postseason behind their basket. Each of the players was showered in celebration while Burke found her twin sister Allie for a moment in the stands.
“It was awesome,” Burke said. “They were texting us all week, ‘we’re taking the train up, we’re coming to support you guys.’ That meant so much to us, that let us play with confidence knowing our school is behind us. I think SEPTA told them not to get too rowdy but the kids at our school are awesome.”
Both teams open the state playoffs on Friday night and while Broskey wouldn’t say it out loud, there is still another box on the team goals the Bucks would love to check off.
“Coach said ‘think how grateful you are to be here,’” Broskey said. “How many people get to play for a district championship? Take that number and cut it in half and that’s how many get to win. First it was the ‘whoa, we got here,’ but in the end it’s another game to capitalize on.
“It feels so good, it feels a little surreal right now but we have one more big goal and we’re going to go get after it.”
CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 42, PENNSBURY 38
CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 11 10 9 12 – 42
PENNSBURY 8 1 10 19 – 38
Central Bucks West: Paige Gilbert 3 4-6 10, Olivia Irons 2 3-4 8, Emily Spratt 0 7-9 7, Jess Broskey 3 3-5 10, Maddie Burke 2 1-2 7. Totals: 10 18-26 42.
Pennsbury: Ava Sciolla 7 2-3 18, Mary Miller 4 0-0 8, Mia Spinelli 0 1-2 1, Nicole Pompili 2 2-2 8, Abbi Nassivera 1 0-0 2, Kiley Haws 0 1-2 1. Totals: 14 6-9 38.
3-pointers: CBW – Burke 2, Broskey, Irons; P – Sciolla 2, Pompili 2.