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Pennsbury, Sciolla handle the moment, top Plymouth Whitemarsh in District 1-6A semifinals

Pennsbury's Ava Sciolla drives strong to the rim against Plymouth Whitemarsh during their District 1-6A semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Austin Hertzog/MediaNews Group)

FRANCONIA >> Ava Sciolla dribbled the ball back and forth, never rushing and keeping the defender in front of her reacting until it was time to go.

With a quick switch of direction, a transfer of ball from right hand to left and a burst of speed, Sciolla drove into the lane and finished the lefty layup to knot the score against Plymouth Whitemarsh with seconds left in Wednesday’s third quarter. There was more to come from the Pennsbury sophomore and she had seen the path, not only to the basket but to Saturday’s district final at Temple.

Sciolla’s double-double plus plenty of other contributions from her teammates paced the No. 4 Falcons past the No. 1 Colonials 50-41 in the second District 1-6A semifinal game at Souderton.

“As a team, we do a good job of not getting down even when we’re down a couple points because we believe in each other,” Sciolla said. “Seeing the ball go through the hoop and knowing we were right here, it sparked everyone’s energy and gave us a second wind so we were ready to go.”

Pennsbury celebrates after defeating Plymouth Whitemarsh in the District 1-6A semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Austin Hertzog/MediaNews Group)

Sciolla scored a game-high 24 points with 13 coming in the second half while also pulling down 10 rebounds. Her step-back three with 6:33 left in the game again knotted the score and also kicked off a 10-0 run she capped with another lefty layup off a drive to put the Falcons in front.

Pennsbury (22-4) got off to a quick start with Sciolla scoring eight points and assisting another hoop in a 12-8 first quarter and the sophomore adding five more as the SOL National co-champs went up 19-10 with 4:55 left in the second. After a shaky start which included two offensive fouls and an inability to set up their press defense, the Colonials settled in.

Behind an attacking mindset from sophomore point guard Kaitlyn Flanagan, PW (22-4) held Pennsbury off the board the rest of the half and closed on an 8-0 to trail by just a point at the break.

“Sciolla is hard to handle one-on-one and when you run an extra defender at her, she’s very good at finding whoever just left their girl,” PW coach Dan Dougherty said. “We also had a hard time getting into our press, it wasn’t a different press break so I don’t know if the emotion of the game got to them but just we weren’t getting into our press.”

Flanagan had three assists, all on 3-point shots, in the third quarter with the second one leading to a trey by Gabby Cooper to start a 6-0 run for a 27-24 lead. A three by Sciolla put Pennsbury back up but Flanagan found Abby Sharpe for her second longball of the quarter and when Anna McTamney followed with two free throws, the Colonials led 32-28.

Defensively, it was PW center Jordyn Thomas who helped the Colonials take the two leads over the Falcons. The sophomore chalked up five blocks on the night and had 12 rebounds while McTamney chalked up six rebounds with a few coming off Thomas’ blocks.

“You have to guard them, their length, at times it’s almost hilarious because they’re just getting putbacks and you’re waiting on Ava to fire in there and maybe get a rebound,” Faclons coach Frank Sciolla said. “I thought we battled well enough on the backboard to not get overwhelmed and we took care of the ball, which is one of our strengths.”

Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Gabby Cooper tries to dribble past Pennsbury’s Ava Sciolla during their District 1-6A semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Austin Hertzog/MediaNews Group)

While neither team shot a high number of foul shots, with Pennsbury going to the line just three times before the fourth quarter, Dougherty felt what had been successful for his players in the first half wasn’t there in the second.

Flanagan took seven free throws in the first half and just two in the second while Thomas totaled just two for the game.

“That’s a big deal,” Dougherty said. “But, (Ava) Sciolla won that game and we needed a better defensive plan to stop her. It’s hard to defend a step-back, the NBA guys can’t stop James Harden and she’s making driving left-handed layups.”

The Falcons have players around Sciolla like Bella Arcuri and Mary Miller that teams have to respect, so when they need a big basket, they can stretch the floor. It doesn’t have to be Sciolla taking it to the rim either, as Arcuri tallied an and-one and Miller got a score during the 10-0 fourth quarter run, but it was definitely something Pennsbury planned on.

“We had planned it previously, we said if we can space the floor, that’s when we’re at our best,” Ava Sciolla said. “We were trying to get (Thomas) out of the way, no shot-blockers around so we could have a clean path.”

Pennsbury’s Mary Miller shoots and scores over Plymouth Whitemarsh’s Jordyn Thomas during their District 1-6A semifinal on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. (Austin Hertzog/MediaNews Group)

Wednesday though, it wasn’t a shock to anyone watching that the ball kept finding its way into Sciolla’s hands when her team needed a big basket. While she didn’t score again after ending the 10-0 run, the sophomore added an assist by beating a double team to get Nicole Pompili a wide-open layup and she had four boards in the last quarter.

“It’s almost like in baseball, when a team has lost a couple games in a row and the pitcher comes in and stops it, she made so many of those shots,” Frank Sciolla said. “We handled the moment. We came in here and handled the moment. It was our first time here and they acted like they had been here before. It was the biggest game of their lives and we played well.”

PW will host No. 3 Spring-Ford on Friday in the third-place game. While the Colonials were a state playoff team last year, they did it by navigating the playback bracket so Wednesday was also a new experience for them.

Dougherty stressed regrouping was the main priority before the state tournament, especially with the starting five asked to play a lot of tough minutes the last few rounds.

“We’re down three kids and playing five kids close to 32 minutes,” Dougherty said. “That said, the message I keep preaching to the kids is next year is not promised. We have three kids standing under the backboards every night in warm-ups, you can’t think ‘we’re so young, we’ll be back.’ There was an opportunity for us tonight and you have to seize them, so now we have to get ready for states.”

Pennsbury will get a second crack at No. 2 CB West in Saturday’s final, a 5 p.m. start at the Liacouras Center. West coach Zach Sibel played under Frank Sciolla when he coached the boys’ program at Pennsbury and both programs have had tremendous fan support all postseason.

Ava Sciolla said she’s most looking forward to seeing her friends and classmates down in Philadelphia this weekend and as far as the game, it’s nothing the Falcons aren’t ready for.

“Our backbone is our toughness and our defense,” Ava Sciolla said. “The poise we have as a group is what carries us in a game like this. I don’t think anybody was rattled tonight.”

PENNSBURY 12 7 13 18 – 50
Pennsbury: Ava Sciolla 10 0-0 24, Bella Arcuri 2 4-5 8, Mary Miller 4 1-2 9, Nicole Pompili 1 3-4 5, Lauren Dignan 1 0-0 2, Abbi Nassiveri 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 8-11 50.
Plymouth Whitemarsh: Katilyn Flanagan 2 6-9 10, Abby Sharpe 3 0-0 9, Gabby Cooper 2 0-0 5, Anna McTamney 3 4-5 10, Jordyn Thomas 3 1-2 7. Totals: 13 11-16 41.
3-pointers: P – Sciolla 4; PW – Sharpe 3, Cooper.

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