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Gilbert, Spratt finish strong as CB West tops Upper Dublin for SOL tournament title

Central Bucks West celebrates after defeating Upper Dublin to win the Suburban One League tournament championship on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

NORTHAMPTON >> Paige Gilbert found herself in a spot most offensive players would prefer to avoid.

Gilbert, all 5-foot-8 of her, had just snared an offensive rebound off the rim but now had 6-foot-3 Jackie Vargas and her extended arms looming over like a sentinel. No big deal for the Central Bucks West junior, who used a good pump fake, then scored over Upper Dublin’s all-state center to give her squad the lead back.

An aggressive mindset fueled by Gilbert and Emily Spratt helped the Bucks beat the Cardinals defense enough times to win the SOL title.

West beat the Cardinals 38-33 at Council Rock South on Monday to win its third SOL title but first since the 2016-27 season.

“We came together, decided to make some stops on defense and let it fuel our offense,” Gilbert said. “It’s so fun, everything is so competitive. We have a list of goals we made at the beginning of the season and we need to get them all, we just want to check them all off.”

The Central Bucks West Bucks pose with their championship trophy after defeating Upper Dublin in the Suburban One League tournament final on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

The current West seniors were freshmen on the last SOL tournament title team, and Spratt’s older sister Abbey was also a part of that roster. While Monday’s outcome had no impact on either team’s District 1-6A tournament prospects or seeding, Gilbert and Spratt said they were plenty motivated to come out and try to win a trophy.

Upper Dublin, playing in the title game for the first time, also wanted to win only to keep its late-season surge of momentum going. Doing so would require a resolute defensive effort and one the Cardinals got in some ways and lacked in others.

“I’m disappointed in how we played defensively, honestly,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “We did complicated things well. Limiting (Maddie) Burke’s shot attempts is complicated but some simple things and knowing the role of players on the other team we did not do well. Things like communicating defensively and not knowing who you have, we didn’t do that well.”

With Sarah Eskew following West senior Maddie Burke around like a second shadow, Upper Dublin got off to a terrific start and took an 8-0 lead to open the game. West, which started 0-of-5 from the floor and didn’t get a point until a Spratt bucket nearly five minutes in, had to call an early timeout.

Funsten almost saw the start as a fool’s gold and cautioned his players the effort had to stay at that level.

Vargas gave UD an 11-4 lead early in the second quarter, then the breakdowns started to add up for the Cardinals. Anna Blue came in off the West bench and knocked down a three to kick off an 11-0 run that ended the half over the final 5:39.

“They’re so good at what they do and so precise,” West coach Zach Sibel said. “We told the girls we have to make the game at a pace we want but to do that, we have to make plays. I think of Emily Spratt getting to the free throw line and late, making that hard-contact finish, the stuff she does best.

“I feel like I say it all the time, but it’s different people stepping up.”

Blue scored nine points in the game, her offensive rebound and immediate short jumper tying the game at 11-11 before Burke finally got enough space to hit a three for a 14-11 advantage. The shot was the Penn State recruit’s only score of the game until a pair of late free throws but Spratt said they weren’t panicking because Burke wasn’t scoring.

Upper Dublin’s Jackie Vargas (42) moves around Central Bucks West’s Emily Spratt (13) in the SOL tournament final on Monday, Feb. 10, 2020. (James Beaver/For MediaNews Group)

Even Spratt got off to a slow start and had just three points on her line until the fourth quarter started but she wasn’t worried. West got points from elsewhere, like Blue and a crafty reverse by Lilly Evans and limited Upper Dublin’s outside shooting enough to lead 24-21 after three.

“Just because things don’t happen for you in the first half doesn’t mean they won’t happen in the second,” Spratt said. “My teammates doing really well, it helped me get my confidence back. We made a poster at the beginning of our season with our goals on it so this was one of those goals from the beginning.”

The Cardinals had a rough night behind the arc, shooting just 3-of-18 and missing their first 10 tries but Funsten wasn’t too worried with that. His concern was a defense that gave up the kind of drives and looks the Bucks really wanted to get far too often in the final quarter.

“We haven’t gotten into our best groove this year shooting the three, Jackie Vargas played great, but it’s all about defense for us,” Funsten said. “I know (West) was way under their scoring average but to us, it wasn’t good enough and what’s crazy is we think offensively we were good enough even though we missed shots.

“That’s not us and it hasn’t been us, especially recently.”

Vargas scored a game-high 16 points but found herself in foul trouble late in the game, so senior Anajae Smith stepped up to deliver some crucial scores. Her three with 1:30 left gave the Cardinals a 33-32 lead, but a mix-up getting back on defense opened a lane for Spratt to drive and Gilbert to get the rebound and putback for the deciding hoop.

 “We all know if we stay composed, it will work out,” Gilbert said. “If we get flustered, that’s when we make the mistakes that don’t need to be made. If we stay together, we know we’re better than that and don’t have to get flustered.”

Gilbert and Spratt combined for the first 10 West points of the final quarter, with Spratt able to convert a layup through excellent defense by UD’s Kara Grebe for a 31-28 lead. Funsten noted Spratt is “at her best on the attack” and part of his team’s breakdown was letting the sophomore go to her right.

“I realized this was important to us and it was a moment of clarity that my team needed me and my team doing well, Paige rebounding and Maddie looking up to pass, it all comes together on the court,” Spratt said. “We realized (Vargas) was foul trouble and if we could get her out of the game would be important. When you drive, you’re either getting blocked, getting a foul called or getting a basket so you have to get over the embarrassment of maybe getting blocked and do what you need to do.”

West crossed a goal off Monday night, but still has more on its list starting next Tuesday in the second round of the district tournament.

“This is a team that can’t turn it off,” Sibel said. “This isn’t a team that struggles to find the light switch, they can’t turn it off. They just keep fighting, they wanted this one and you can’t tell this team to calm down, this is a hungry team.”

CENTRAL BUCKS WEST 4 11 9 14 – 38
UPPER DUBLIN 9 2 10 12 – 33
Central Bucks West: Paige Gilbert 4 0-0 8, Emily Spratt 3 3-6 9, Jess Broskey 1 2-2 5, Maddie Burke 1 2-2 5, Lilly Evans 1 0-0 2, Anna Blue 4 0-0 9. Totals: 14 7-10 38.
Upper Dublin: Jess Polin 2 0-0 5, Kara Grebe 1 0-0 2, Dayna Balasa 1 0-0 2, Jackie Vargas 7 2-4 16, Anajae Smith 3 0-2 8. Totals: 14 2-6 33.
3-pointers: CBW – Blue, Burke, Broskey; UD – Smith 2, Polin.

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