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Lansdale Catholic gets first win over Archbishop Wood, moves into tie for PCL lead

Olivia Boccella knocked down a trio of 3-pointers helping LC knock off Archbishop Wood on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (Andrew Robinson/For MediaNews Group)

WARMINSTER >> Olivia Boccella checked the numbers Tuesday.

The Lansdale Catholic junior, a superb central defender in soccer and a sniper from long range in basketball, owned at least one win over every other PCL school except for one. Every time she had taken the pitch or stepped on the court against Archbishop Wood, she and her Crusaders teammates came out on the wrong end.

Tuesday night changed the numbers.

Boccella had a pair of clutch third quarter shots and Jaida Helm powered LC with a double-double to lead the Crusaders past the league-leading Vikings 49-31 for the program’s first win over Wood since joining the PCL in 2008.

“I counted today, it’s been nine times, I was 0-and-nine,” Boccella, who scored nine points, said. “It feels so good getting that first win against them.”

Lansdale Catholic put itself on the map last year, but despite earning the No. 4 seed in the regular season, wasn’t able to crash the PCL postseason party. Tuesday’s win helped make a mess of the table, LC not only handing Wood it’s first loss in Catholic League play, but inserting itself into a three-team logjam with the Vikings and Cardinal O’Hara for first place heading into Thursday’s final slate of games.

Twice last year, the Crusaders tried to knock off the Vikings only to get turned away pretty handily in the regular season and again in Hershey despite a valiant effort in the PIAA Class 4A title game in March. Both teams are different this year, Wood winning with a lot of balance without the one or two dominant players that have defined the program in recent seasons while LC is largely the same, but a year wiser and bolstered by the addition of Jaida Helm.

It was Helm, who came to the school for her senior year after three seasons with Abington, who made the difference on Tuesday.

“It certainly is a difference, she allows us to do a lot of things defensively and offensively that we can’t do when she’s not out there,” LC coach Eric Gidney said. “It puts a lot of pressure on teams because they know we have a little bit of size to counter some of theirs. I thought she did a great job on Deja and a great job of helping out on everybody else, so she was a difference-maker in a team win.”

Helm, who played for Wood coach Mike McDonald on his Mid-Atlantic Magic AAU team, scored a game-best 17 points while adding 10 rebounds, three assists and a block. She defended Wood senior Deja Evans, hit jumpers, attacked the basket, ended the first quarter holding her knee after another player fell into her and at one point in the fourth quarter, played half a possession with one of her shots sitting unoccupied on the floor, it having come off her foot.

That’s the sort of energy the Vikings have to come to expect from Helm, with Boccella adding she’s been a fantastic teammate always looking to pick someone up after a miss or a mistake. All the senior, who not only faced her AAU coach but a couple of travel teammates, was worried about was getting the win and having more of an impact than she did against Cardinal O’Hara when fouls limited her role in LC’s only PCL loss last week.

“I had a lot of fun, it’s been a lot of fun playing with them, it’s a really great group and I’m just excited for the rest of the season,” Helm said. “I’m getting used to the offense, getting used to playing with everybody, especially Gabby (Casey). Gabby’s a great player, I’m trying to make sure she gets her shots because if we’re going to win, she has to score.”

Casey, who had a few less losses than Boccella against Wood but similarly entered the night win-less against the Vikings, didn’t have to do as much scoring as usual but netted a solid 13 points as she and Helm helped LC seize control in the second quarter. After Casey cleaned up a miss from Helm to beat the first-quarter buzzer, the senior tandem combined for the first eight points of the second frame before a Sanyiah Littlejohn take made it an even 10-0 run to open up a 23-9 lead.

Gidney pointed out that Littlejohn’s ability to get to the rim and Helm’s scoring on Tuesday helped Casey, as Wood couldn’t just blitz a second or third defender at her. Although the St. Joe’s recruit still had to get past the tough defense of Delaney Finnegan, her AAU teammate with the Philly Belles, Casey was no less thrilled to finally get one against the Vikings with a lot of people backing her up.

“I was scoring my points off screens, that’s what opened me up and my teammates were looking for me,” Casey said. “I think this was our best defensive game of the season, we really brought it on defense which led to points. We kept our patience on offense, we weren’t forcing anything and I think that really helped us.”

Wood’s only points in the second came from senior Kara Meredith, who led her team with eight points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two assists and the Vikings went to half trailing 26-13. The loss denied Wood the chance to secure the top seed for the upcoming PCL playoffs, but McDonald was measured after the game, saying the team is where it thought it would be at this point.

The Vikings had some flashes, like a seven-point third quarter from Ava Renninger, but didn’t sustain them enough. Nobody in the PCL will finish unbeaten and all bets are usually off anyway when the league gets to its final four.

“Our conversation in the locker room was pretty positive, there were a lot of things we did wrong that were in our control and they did a lot more right that was in their control,” McDonald said. “There’s a lot we can learn from this game and get better. We’re in the same spot we hoped to be in when we started the season, a good spot heading into the quarterfinals with a chance to win that game and head to the semifinals, which is always a game where you have to be ready and prepared.”

Not to be lost in Tuesday’s contest was the crowd. In general, it was a full house at Wood full of players from other schools who shared an AAU roster with someone playing in the game, some college coaches and players and two very packed, very loud student sections.

Boccella, who hit back-to-back threes in the final 47 seconds of the third quarter that propelled LC to a 41-22 lead directly across from LC’s students, was quick to point out the impact

“No, our crowd literally follows us everywhere,” Boccella said. “We have the best student section in the PCL, for sure.”

Wood will be back home on Thursday for its Senior Night against St. Hubert. LC finishes its PCL schedule at Archbishop Carroll on Thursday, a definite challenge before the grinder of the postseason begins.

Casey and Boccella noted the importance of Thursday’s game but given the circumstances of Tuesday’s outcome, their coach was fine with his team enjoying the moment a little bit.

“I wanted the girls to enjoy this, they worked so hard to get to this moment,” Gidney said. “Hat’s off to our student section, they showed up full force.

“We also have to be ready to turn the page, we may see (Wood) again, we may see O’Hara again, Carroll, any number of players but it doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy this a little bit.”

Lansdale Catholic 49, Archbishop Wood 31
Lansdale Catholic 12 14 15 8 — 49
Archbishop Wood 9 4 9 9 — 31
Lansdale Catholic: Jaida Helm 7 2-2 17, Gabby Casey 6 0-0 13, Olivia Boccella 3 0-0 9, Nadia Yemola 3 0-1 6, Sanyiah Littlejohn 2 0-0 4. Totals: 21 2-3 49
Archbishop Wood: Kara Meredith 2 3-4 8, Ava Renninger 2 3-4 7, Deja Evans 1 4-4 6, Delaney Finnegan 2 0-0 5, Emily Knouse 2 0-0 5. Totals: 9 10-12 31
3-pointers: LC – Boccella 3, Helm, Casey; AW – Finnegan, Meredith, Knouse.

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