Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
KING OF PRUSSIA — Phoenixville’s Max Lebisky didn’t have a point entering the fourth quarter Thursday against Upper Merion. Yet the Phantoms held a 20-point lead and the junior forward was one of the main reasons why.
Lebisky eventually got in the scoring column late in a key 60-51 PAC Frontier win over the Vikings but his impact was felt long before that.
He piled up 11 assists, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal in what coach Eric Burnett described as a uniquely “dominant” offensive outing, which anyone who saw Lebisky whip the ball around the court on Thursday would be hard-pressed to protest.
“Max is certainly a unique talent. He can do a little bit of everything,” Burnett said. “He’s like our glue guy. Coaches kind of joke about it and call him ‘The Big Eraser’ because he erases a lot of our mistakes and helps us out in a lot of ways.
Junior forward Max Lebisky had 11 assists in Thursday's win over Upper Merion. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
“He’s calm with the ball. He can see the floor well, obviously his size is a big plus. He’s got a really good skillset. He can handle the ball really well. It was big tonight. On some of those backdoor and flashes he was able to find some guys.”
Neither of Lebisky’s parents played basketball. He’s unsure where his pass-first style came from, but he’s always been a guy happy to feed his teammates.
On Thursday, that meant full-court outlet passes, finds from the top of the post, kicks outs for three, one quick touch for an assist and lots and lots of easy looks for his teammates. He had five assists in the second quarter alone to help the Phantoms (10-10, 5-3 PAC Frontier) turn an 8-6 advantage into a 26-14 halftime lead.
The last was a backdoor look to sophomore Deacon Baratta, who had 21 points in the game. Junior Christian Cervino added another 20 points, while sophomore Devon Nelson led Upper (9-9, 5-3) Merion with 16, including a jam.
“I have a pretty old-school game,” Lebisky said. “I’ve always been a passer and it just kind of stayed with me last year, not having a huge role. Just knowing to try and get the ball to the other scorers and just doing my role.”
“Knowing I’m going to have attention on me, it’s just trying to get my teammates involved and today they did a really good job knocking down shots and just doing their thing,” he added. “It’s good to see when I’m not scoring that they can pick it up for me.”
Lebisky was the young guy as a sophomore last season on a roster that featured 11 seniors and advanced to the PAC Final Six and earned the District 1-5A No. 3 seed before dropping all three postseason games.
He averaged about four points per game last season, but it was clear his skillset was important as he carved out a role on the veteran squad. Along with his passing ability, he could knock down a three or put the ball down on the floor and drive as well as contribute on the glass and with his defensive instincts.
As the lone returner from last season’s rotation, Lebisky stepped into a more prominent role this season. He came into Thursday averaging just under 10 points per game. He’s also someone teammates have naturally looked up to with just one senior on the team this year.
“It was different at the start, definitely something I had to get used to the leadership role,” Lebisky said. “I had all those other guys who were really good leaders for me last year. I was just trying to pick up what they taught me last year and just use that and give that to them this year.”
Lebisky isn’t the only Phantom who likes to share the rock. Fellow starters Baratta, freshman Dawson Brown, junior Aidan McClintock and sixth-man Cervino are all averaging around seven to 10 points per game this season, so everyone gets their turn.
Phoenixville sophomore Deacon Baratta scored 21 points in a win over Upper Merion. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)
Baratta, the only Phantom averaging double figures, had one of the best outings of his career Thursday. He added six rebounds, four blocks and five steals to his game-high 21 points. He took over on both ends of the court in the third quarter when he had nine points, three steals, four rebounds and a block to help extend the Phantoms’ advantage to 46-26.
He and Cervino both knocked down three 3-point attempts. After scoring eight in the second quarter, Cervino also had a big third, scoring eight of his points in the period as he and Baratta combined for 17 of Phoenixville’s 20 points in the quarter.
“It’s very exciting knowing that they’re able to pick it up real quick,” Lebisky said. “Two guys who didn’t play varsity last year who had 20 for us tonight, we’re getting there. It’s looking real good for us right now.”
Phoenixville is 8-3 in its last 11 games and two of those have been one-point losses to Perkiomen Valley and PJP.
“Max is the lone returner and everybody else, it's a very young squad,” Burnett said. “It shows at times our youth and other times you can really see what we’re capable of being. I’m really happy that we’re playing pretty good ball here down the stretch.”
Thursday’s victory Phoenixville was a big one for the Phantoms, who are fighting for their postseason lives. They entered a game behind Pope John Paul II, Pottstown and Upper Merion in the Frontier standings and No. 15 in the District 1-5A rankings — a 12-team field.
Pottstown, Upper Merion and PJP, which knocked off the Phantoms in overtime Tuesday, all held a one-game lead in the division over Phoenixville heading into the night. After the Phantoms’ win and a PJP victory over Pottstown on a buzzer beater by Chase Mondillo, the Golden Panthers hold a one-game lead on the rest of the division.
The two division winners earn first-round byes for the league playoffs and the four other teams with the best overall league record earn playoff spots.
At present, Methacton (7-3), Norristown (7-3), Upper Merion (7-4),Phoenixville (5-6) and Boyertown (5-6) are in contention for those final four spots with either two or three their 14 PAC games remaining.
The Phantoms finish off their regular-season with must-win games against Pottstown and Pottsgrove next week. The high stakes closing stretch to the season will be a good playoff-like experience for everyone on the roster.
“It’s also unique for Max because he was a sophomore last year with 11 seniors,” Burnett said. “He’s in a new role well as well to a lot of guys who do look up to him and look for him in those big moments. He’s really stepped up into that role. Our practices have been great. Everybody’s got great attitudes and that’s a really good bonus when you’re coaching this time of year.”
Phoenixville: 11 | 15 | 1 | 10 || 37
Upper Merion: 6 | 8 | 12 | 25 || 51
Phoenixville: Deacon Baratta 21, Christian Cervino 20, Bryce Absher 8, Aidan McClintock 7, Max Lebisky 2, Dawson Brown 2.
Upper Merion: Devon Nelson 16, Elijah Davis 10, Qwynne Seals 9, Josh Zimmerman 6, Nicholai Smiley 4, Colin Hirshorn 3.
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