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PIAA 4A: Casey leads the way as Lansdale Catholic beats Blackhawk for first state title

03/25/2023, 2:00pm EDT
By Josh Verlin

By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

HERSHEY – Gabby Casey was on a mission.

The Lansdale Catholic senior’s been on a mission the last four months, really, but this one was different. Casey was right in the middle of a parade of Crusaders making a beeline to the wall of LC students waiting for them just off the Giant Center court, the moment they’d all been waiting for just ahead.

Casey’s final act in a Lansdale Catholic uniform added another note of history, the forward giving her team everything it needed when it needed to bring home the program’s first state title by downing Blackhawk 53-45 in Hershey.

“Ever since the 2-11 season, we kept working together, kept trusting in each other, kept believing in each other,” Casey said. “We’re a close-knit group, we’re like family. We’re going to be engraved in the school forever, which is amazing.

Lansdale Catholic girls basketball team poses with the PIAA Class 4A championship trophy following Saturday's win over Blackhawk.
(Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

“It was working hard and the desire to want and want and want.”

Casey was dynamite, scoring 28 points and grabbing 16 rebounds to close her career and never wavering despite being tagged with two personal fouls before the first quarter was halfway over. The bag was spilled all over the GIANT Center floor, Casey hitting a pair of threes, turning around in the lane and lacing a few jumpers and then there were the drives.

Just so many drives.

Lansdale Catholic senior Gabby Casey, left, and junior Olivia Boccella hug after Saturday's win. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Blackhawk tried about everything it had, rotating defenders, switching looks, trying to put speed against power and it led to a few stops and turnovers but not when it mattered most. Casey got what she wanted on the floor and it got her what she wanted to end her senior year.

“I was bigger than the girl I was guarding, I kept taking it inside and hoping it went in, which thankfully, they did,” Casey said. “If we’re not hitting, then I’ll try to do my thing and take over a little bit but once that happens, it opens up for everybody else. That goes hand-in-hand.”

Nobody on LC’s roster knows this better than Olivia Boccella. The junior guard has been with Casey every step each of the last three years and the person Casey waited on to share the first hug with at the final horn.

About the only negative for Boccella on Saturday was that she won’t get to play with Casey or any of the seniors again. They’re best of friends, but that didn’t stop Boccella from honestly assessing Casey’s performance.

“Probably a 1,000 out of 10,” Boccella said. “Every time we’re down and need something, it’s always her. She’ll get a bucket, she’ll do whatever we need. At the end, we were up by two and she got us a score.

“She’s so clutch in everything she does. It’s crazy to watch, I’ve never played with anyone like here.”

Boccella scored two baskets in the game and both of them gave LC a lead. The first was a layup off an assist from Casey in the final seconds of the first quarter for a 9-8 Crusaders edge that didn’t last long.

The other was one of the biggest shots of the game, a deep wing three off a crosscourt dime by Casey that gave the Crusaders a 32-30 lead in the midst of an 11-0 run that put them in front for good. Adding in the fact that Casey was wide open on the other side and had eyes for the rim said a lot about what they have together.

“I was planning on shooting but then I saw she was open,” Casey said. “I had missed my last one and I knew she hadn’t taken many shots so I passed it to her and it went in.”

“She's the first person to look up when I'm open and I swear, every time I shoot a three, it's her assist," Boccella said.

Lansdale Catholic seniors Gabby Casey, left, and Jaida Helm hoist the PIAA championship trophy. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Blackhawk’s remarkable season ended a win short of the program’s first state title since 2015 but the Cougars pushed LC for all 32 minutes on Saturday. A team that played its entire postseason without its top player, the Cougars came out on fire in the second quarter and in what felt like a blink, had a seven point lead.

Junior Alena Fusetti, who took on the go-to player role for her team, and freshman Aubree Hupp got hot and put the Cougars in front 23-16 with 4:23 left in the half. Fusetti in particular was giving LC fits and nothing the Crusaders did was slowing her up.

A TV timeout right after gave LC a chance to reset and one of their own players to speak up.

“Sanyiah said I want to guard 11, so we did,” LC coach Eric Gidney said.

Fuestti had 10 when LC made the switch. The junior didn’t score again until the 6:28 mark of the fourth quarter, but she was a key factor in Blackhawks’ comeback bid and finished with 20 points.

Still, Littlejohn’s efforts did the job at a critical juncture.

"She kept hitting threes and I thought, I'm the best defensive player on our team so I had to go and take over," Littlejohn said. "She was very physical and hitting pull-up jumpers, so I took that away and denied her the whole game."

LC closed on a 6-2 run and trailed 25-22 at the half. They were down 30-27 with 6:09 left in the third when the run began.

Casey started it with a basket inside, then she found Boccella for the go-ahead three and following a Blackhawk turnover, scored again. She had six points in the run, with Nadia Yemola and Littlejohn finishing it off for a 38-30 lead at the quarter break.

Cougars coach Steve Lodovico had a good description of what the difference in the game was.

"I said '15 (Casey) out there is outworking everybody for the glass, we gotta get a body on her,'" Lodovico said. "She kept giving them another opportunity to score. That's why she is who she is."

With Casey putting her shoulder down and getting to the rim at will, Boccella hitting a big shot and Littlejohn and Jaida Helm rejecting Blackhawk on the back end, Gidney saw his team come back. Not that it had ever left, but it wasn’t the same LC in the first half. 

“Once we got back to who we were - and that’s what I mean by that - that’s when I knew we were fine,” Gidney said.

LC had dominated its first four state playoff games. The team’s response to its first challenge of the PIAA tournament harkened back to February in the PCL title game and said plenty about the group it had on the floor.

“We’re not usually down, but we were down in the Wood game (at the Palestra) too so it shows a lot of our character to persevere through that and not lose composure,” Boccella said. “We were all calm at the end.”

Lansdale Catholic's girls celebrate with the Crusaders fans and students.
(Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

For all the records and accolades Casey has accumulated in her career and over the course of the season, this was the one she wanted most because it symbolized success as a team. After making Boccella her first hug on the court and sharing the moment with the student section, Casey went into the stands and had a tear-filled hug with each of her parents.

What was most likely the greatest individual season in school history ended with a triple crown of championships. That’s what they’ll put in the trophy case back in Lansdale and what Casey was most looking forward to seeing when she comes back as an alum.

“I’m a team-oriented player, I’ll put the team first any day,” Casey said. “We’ve done great things this season. It’s really going to be tough to beat and doing it as a family has been great.”

The run to the student section was always the end goal. LC had four buses of students, plus plenty more who made their own way and the Crusaders faithful essentially overran a full section of seats in the lower bowl.

Lansdale Catholic will show up for a championship and that’s just what it got to see on Saturday.

“All the aspirations in the world doesn’t mean you’re going to walk out with one of these,” Gidney said. “There was still work to do. It means a lot. These seniors and the other girls who walked off brokenhearted after losing to Wood and said we want to get back here and not just be happy but win the whole darn thing, it’s something they’ll remember the rest of their lives.”

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