Spencer Ripchik (@RipchikSpencer)
With a trip to Hershey on the line, Lansdale Catholic’s shooters answered the call.
Lady Crusaders junior Gabby Casey and sophomore Olivia Boccella combined for 38 points to take down Villa Maria 56-50 at Bald Eagle High school in a PIAA Class 4A semifinal game where the Hurricanes led until the final minutes.
Lansdale Catholic will play Catholic League rival Archbishop Wood for the state championship. After just going 2-11 a season ago, the Lady Crusaders have completely flipped the script.
“To go from 2-11 and come back, I think we have pretty much exceeded everyone’s expectations,” head coach Eric Gidney said. “I’m just super proud of these kids and we never lost composure.”
In the first three quarters, it didn’t look like Lansdale Catholic was going to come out with the win.
Gabby Casey (above) led the way for the Crusaders with 23 points. (Photo: Spencer Ripchik for CoBL)
Out of the gates, Villa Maria’s senior Carissa Dunham (14 points) lit it up behind the arc, with a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter, which carried into the second half as she knocked another duo of 3s.
Lansdale Catholic couldn’t keep up, even with Casey’s five points in the first half.
After 16 minutes of play, the Lady Crusaders were down 25-20, thanks to Dunham and a pair of buckets in the paint from senior Daniela Shaughnessy (9 points)..
However, Gidney’s halftime locker room pep talk on playing more like a team got the wheels turning, as Casey started to find driving lanes to the basket, scoring four points inside the paint in the third quarter, closing the gap to 38-34.
Boccella also started to connect from deep, knocking down two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter — one sparking a timeout from Villa Maria coach Doug Chuzie.
After both teams exchanged blows from behind the arc, the Lady Crusaders were able to sink a few more shots and keep Villa Maria out of reach. Lansdale Catholic will play in the title game on Thursday, something that is new to the program.
Casey thought her coach's attitude played a main role in the team's surge in the second half of the contest.
“He was very positive,” Casey said. “He was like, ‘We can win this.’ I don’t think we looked back after that.”
In the second half, Casey really found her groove, knocking down a handful of shots from behind the arc and driving on a couple of layups.
Casey said her success in the second half came as she attacked more to her left, which helped her attack the rim and make some layups, giving her a game-high 23 points,18 in the second half.
Gidney said he came up with some plays on Friday to get Casey even more involved in the offense that was different from what he did all season, but most of the work was her own doing.
“We did some different things that really freed her up,” Gidney said. “There were some times where she got into the lane with ease. Don’t get me wrong, she made some circus shots and very acrobatic layups.”
Lansdale Catholic is headed for the state title game after defeating District 10 champ Villa Maria. (Photo: Spencer Ripchik for CoBL)
Gidney said the turning point in the second half happened because his team established the back door cuts early in the game.
“We got open look after open look, which put them on their toes and their heels,” Gidney said. “I just felt like we had much more efficient offensive possessions than they did.”
Gidney’s squad is fairly young with just two seniors on the roster in Lauren Edwards and Erin Clark, but for the younger players, this win was for the senior class.
“They've just been a huge part of the team,” Casey said. “They're two really great seniors, Lauren and Erin. They're both great leaders. They just contribute a lot to the team and I hope this means a lot to them.”
Other than Casey, Boccella and freshman Sanyiah Littlejohn balanced the offensive load for the Lady Crusaders, with Boccella finishing with 15 points and Littlejohn with five.
Gidney sees his young playmakers as the stress relievers of the team because they are naive to the magnitude of the game, and it helps the seniors out.
“They come in and have fun,” Gidney said. “They are just happy to be here. I think the seniors kind of recognize that.”
Gidney points to the youthfulness on his roster as a strength, meaning that in the future, Lansdale Catholic will be in the same spot it is in now for the years to come.
“To think that we have made it this far with two freshmen, a sophomore and a junior as four out of our five, that’s a pretty remarkable achievement,” Gidney said. “As long as we keep working our butts off, this can be a continual thing year after year.”
Lansdale Catholic has moved on to its final game of the season — a date with a conference foe.
The Lady Crusaders have seen a lot of the Vikings as they lost to them in the regular season 78-54. The two schools are just under 15 miles apart.
Their PCL rival has a packed roster, which features seniors Vanderbilt commit Ryanne Allen and Delaware commit Bri Bowen.
For now, Gidney is not looking to the future, instead living in the moment.
“We know Wood. They play in the Philadelphia Catholic League. We know them pretty well,” Gidney said. “We're happy to get here but like we're gonna enjoy this for right now.
“On Monday, it's time to get to work and hopefully the work that we put in for these other last four games helps us get over the hump one more time for a state championship.”
Lansdale Catholic: 12 | 8 | 14 | 12 || 56
Villa Maria: 8 | 17 | 13 | 12 || 50
Lansdale Catholic: Gabby Casey 23, Olivia Boccella 15, Lauren Edwards 8, Nadia Yemola 5, Sanyiah Littlejohn 5
Villa Maria: Carissa Dunham 14, Jayden McBride 13, Lena Walz 9, Daniela Shaughnessy 9, McKenna Valone 5