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Phoenixville, led by post play of Warren and Ford-Bey, thumps Upper Merion

01/02/2024, 11:10pm EST
By Andrew Robinson

Andrew Robinson (@ADrobinson3)

PHOENIXVILLE — Maliyah Warren and Riley Ford-Bey know they can give their Phoenixville girls basketball team an advantage just by stepping on the court.

The Phantoms’ twin presence in the post controls the glass, deters drives to the rim by protecting the paint and gets things done on the offensive end. Where some teams are lucky to have one strong post player, Phoenixville knows it has a luxury with two forwards who not only play well but play well together.

Warren and Ford-Bey showed why they’re at the center of things for the Phantoms on Tuesday in a 52-29 PAC Frontier win over visiting Upper Merion.

“Our team relies on us to crash the boards,” Warren said. “That makes a really big impact on our team. A lot of the opportunities we had tonight were because one of us got a rebound and one of our teammates was down there for a fast break and an easy two points.

“Crashing the boards, if you make the effort to do it, it gets a teammate an easy two points down the floor and you get the reward.”

Phoenixville forwards Riley Ford-Bey (left) and Maliyah Warren (right) combined for 22 rebounds in Tuesday's win against Upper Merion and have been a strong interior presence for the Phantoms. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)

Ford-Bey, a sophomore, had a near double-double with nine points, 14 rebounds and two emphatic blocks. Warren, the team’s lone senior, had a bit of an off shooting night with just four points but added eight rebounds and an assist. Both made their presence felt on the defensive end quite a bit.

Junior Emine Ulcay is the team’s de facto third forward, the junior playing more of a tweener role at the “3” spot with her guard skills, but she’s also able to slide over and spell Warren or Ford-Bey without a drop-off.

“We have three big rebounders — it pushes our team, builds momentum and opens more opportunities,” Ford-Bey said. “Part of it is height, but it’s also that ‘want’ to have the ball in your hands.

“When you’re a post player, sometimes it’s harder to get the ball because you usually don’t have immediate control coming down the floor on offense, so when you get those rebounds, those are your opportunities to show what you can do.”

Ford-Bey and Warren, who wear No. 0 and No. 1, respectively, each stand about 6-foot. Both are strong and aggressive attacking potential rebounds. On the offensive end, the two posts also complement each other well with Ford-Bey operating more as a traditional post on the low block while Warren can step out to the perimeter and knock down shots.

That doesn’t mean they’re limited to those roles. Ford-Bey had a drive from the high block for a layup while Warren’s first score came under the basket.

“I think we’re pretty talented post players, and our guards know that,” Warren said. “We all trust each other, and they can trust us. For a lot of teams, getting the ball in the post is a common problem, but I think our team trusts each other to get it to whoever has the best chance of getting a basket.”

There will be nights where Ford-Bey or Warren or both have big scoring outings, but that wasn’t what the Phantoms most needed of them Tuesday. Instead, their ability to consistently get rebounds fueled a Phoenixville transition game that saw sophomore Kayden Baratta get plenty of run-outs for scores in a 26-point effort.

“Our first look is always to turn and see what’s the best opportunity to score,” Ford-Bey said. “If we see someone’s running down the court, there’s no selfishness on our team, we’re not scared to try and hit the girl who’s running down the court.

“I think what makes us different from other teams is once we get rebounds, we take our time about where we’re going to go with the ball. We don’t want it to be we get the ball then we don’t know what to do.”

Ford-Bey chalked up a lot of the forwards’ shared success to practice. The sophomore noted the Phantoms will go through scenarios with different players in different positions, so they all know how to work in a given lineup.

Phantoms coach Tracy Stirling agreed that’s where the foundation to the post players’ success has started. They can guard each other and make each other better so when it comes time for a game it’s just that much harder for an opponent to stop them.

“With our height advantage, we may go against a team with one big, but they’re likely not going to have two that can match up with us,” Stirling said. “It’s something we work on, we design a lot of plays for that high-low. We have great team chemistry, we can put enough that everyone gets their share.”

There’s also a willingness to flip roles between the posts and guards. Usually the forwards are the main screen-setters, but Phoenixville’s Ava Gnias, the smallest starter, was eager to screen for her posts all game. That’s been a shared trend from the other guards and wings.

“We try to move the ball around a lot,” Warren said. “Riley and I had a lot of mismatches tonight, but it’s the same with the guards. If they realize someone slower is on them, they’re not scared to drive but they’re also not afraid to get under the basket either. There’s a lot of versatility on this team.”

Phoenixville earn key PAC Frontier win

The Phantoms knew this was a big game in the PAC Frontier standings and played like it.

After falling behind 4-2 with 6:46 left in the first quarter, the Phantoms ran off the next 15 points with 10 coming from Baratta to take a lead they wouldn’t return. Baratta has emerged as one of the top underclassmen in the PAC this season, and the 5-10 sophomore was a menace in the open floor, netting 20 of her game-high 26 by halftime, highlighted by a steal and buzzer-beating layup to end the second quarter.

The Vikings were short-handed, with sophomore guard Levayda Fuqua out, and couldn’t overcome the combination of turnovers and Phoenixville’s size as they took their first loss in PAC play.

Devon Maiden led Upper Merion with 14 points, adding two assists. Senior Olivia Smith, a three-sport athlete, didn’t score, but she battled the Phantoms on the glass with 10 rebounds and added an assist, two steals and drew an offensive charge.

The Phantoms ended last season strong, winning the PAC Frontier then going on the road as the No. 11 seed in the District 1 Class 5A playoffs and winning a first-round game. With the core of the team back and a year more experienced, Phoenixville is now 7-4 and looking to do even more this winter.

“We wanted to try and come together more as a team,” Warren said. “I think we had a lot of talent last year, but we just needed to come together and trust each other. Without trust, then you can’t really have a team.”

By Quarter

Phoenixville: 17 | 13 | 12 | 10 || 52

Upper Merion: 6 | 10 | 9 | 4 || 29


Phoenixville: Kayden Baratta 26, Riley Ford-Bey 9, Ava Gnias 7, Maliyah Warren 4, Nevaeh Latimore Beasley 4, Emine Ulcay 2

Upper Merion: Devon Maiden 14, Adele Eaton 6, Kennedy Coles 5, Avery Fox 2, Dakota Jackson 2

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