By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)
BUCKINGHAM — Just chalk it up as a couple heads-up plays by Matt Engle.
The CB West senior point guard, his name not even penciled in as a starter until the last possible minute, twice found Roman Kulesa in the fourth quarter Saturday night and Kulesa twice came through for him. A slugfest of a first half gave way to a trading of blows through the second as the No. 6 seeded Bucks tried to fend off their arch-rival in No. 2 seed CB East in the SOL tournament semifinals.
Engle and Kulesa’s combinations were just two of a host of contributions as West took the rubber match with East, 59-49.
Central Bucks West's Matt Engle, left, and Roman Kulesa pose after Saturday's win. (Photo: Andrew Robinson/CoBL)
“It’s been there all season, I just have to keep my head up, I know he’s open,” Engle said. “I try to keep my head up as much as possible, I’m the point guard, I have to set my teammates up.”
“I think probably two-thirds of my threes are off his assists,” Kulesa added. “He’s always looking for me. It made sense.”
West, which led almost the entire game, saw its lead whittled to 41-38 with 4:08 left in regulation. The ensuing possession ended with Engle somehow whipping a pass around a defender to Kulesa in the left corner for a three. East came up short on a three in retort, Engle securing the rebound then winging an outlet pass the length of the floor to hit Kulesa in stride for a layup.
The Patriots wouldn’t get any closer than six the rest of the way.
“Our whole plan is to share the ball, keep it moving and get everyone involved,” Kulesa said. “When we execute that, we usually end up winning the game.”
The SOL Colonial foes split their regular season matchups, each winning on the other’s home court. Their third meeting played out very much like a game between two teams who know far, far too much about each other with minimal possessions and a 16-11 lead for West at the break.
West coach Adam Sherman said it was a zone defense by the Patriots that played into the methodical pace, the 23-year Bucks coach noting it had been a while since he’d seen East play that defense. Kulesa wasn’t all that surprised, the junior wing starting to say his team has struggled against zones before Engle interjected with a “yo, chill.”
“A big part of the reason the game switched was we got them back to their man defense,” Kulesa said. “We struggle against the 2-3 sometimes but when they switched to man, I think the pace both ways really sped up.”
The reason Engle wasn’t etched in as a starter right away wasn’t due to performance or matchup, but a legitimate question if the ankle he sprained Friday night against Bensalem would cooperate. Engle didn’t really seem to act like it was going to matter, no West kid is ever going to miss an East game if they’re physically able to play, even if it’s not at full strength.
Engle’s presence was certainly much-appreciated by his teammates and especially the one he found for those two critical shots.
“He could be double, triple-teamed, I don’t care, he knows where everyone is and he’s hitting someone,” Kulesa said. “He probably had less than two turnovers, maybe just two turnovers, and that was against pressure all game long.”
Kulesa finished with 14 points, adding three assists and two steals but he was equally important on the defensive end while sticking East standout Jake Cummiskey. While Cummiskey finished with 13, all after halftime, almost all of them came with Kulesa all over him.
“Defensively, our guys were locked in, they knew who they were covering and knew what the other kid liked to do,” Sherman said. “Roman’s been great, on top of that, I thought he was phenomenal defensively. Cumminskey’s a tough cover and he made sure Cumminskey had nothing but tough looks.”
West will return to the SOL title game for the first time since 2018, when the Bucks lost to Plymouth Whitemarsh. It’s only other trip to the final came in 2016, when it downed Abington to win the second iteration of the tournament for its lone title so far.
“We’re playing as if it’s a district playoff game,” Engle said.
UPPER DUBLIN 58, ABINGTON 41
The Cardinals overcame a slow start, controlling the second and third quarters to reach their first SOL tournament title game.
With both teams coming off high-paced games in Friday night’s quarterfinal round, Cardinals coach Derek Brooks figured once his guys realized they’d have to play through tied legs, they would settle in. Even if Abington was dealing with the same thing, it didn’t mean it would be easy.
“Us playing fast kind of got us going,” Brooks said. “I thought we were great in our trap and great in our halfcourt defense. Abington is just a big, physical team so you have to be mentally and physically prepared to play them and I thought our guys were up for it.”
The Cardinals led just 16-15 after a quarter, but they took the next two by a combined 24-9 score. Abington was able to trade score for score with the top seed in the fourth, but Upper Dublin stayed in control.
Brooks lauded a full slate of contributors in the win.
“Kobe Bazemore and Chris Kohlbrenner were great defensively, they really set the tone on that end,” Brooks said. “Noah Cohen made some big plays off the bench for us, Idris Rines had some big baskets when we needed it in the post and Ryan Mulroy is Ryan Mulroy every single time. Brady Fogle contributed his normal points, these last couple games have been a well-rounded effort.
UD lost in the SOL semifinals each of the last two years, so breaking through to the championship game was a big step for the program.
“It’s a fun tournament, for us, this is our 6A tournament,” Brooks said. “We’re the only 5A school but this is a chance to compete against our league’s 6A schools and it’s a lot of fun for our guys.”
UPPER DUBLIN 40, CB EAST 34
Already down Megan Ngo, the Cardinals got more bad news Saturday morning when freshman Tamia Clark was ruled out with an ankle injury.
Behind plenty of guts from their three seniors and one big shot from an unlikely source, the shorthanded Cardinals still found a way to the championship game. Senior Amy Ngo scored 14 in her first game without her sister since she was a sophomore while senior twins Nora and Brighid Brady chipped in nine and eight points, respectively.
“We needed all hands on deck and man, those seniors, they found a way,” UD coach Morgan Funsten said. “A lot of credit goes to Bridget DiMartile and Kaitlyn Zacharia, who both made their first varsity starts today.”
Clark’s ailment didn’t come from nowhere. Funsten said the dynamic freshman seemed to turn her ankle in the third quarter of Friday’s quarterfinal against Bensalem, pulling her late when it was obvious she wasn’t herself.
Funsten listed Clark as “day-to-day.”
“She jumps higher than a lot of people so when she comes down, it’s with a lot more force,” Funsten said. “She kind of labored through the end of the game. She was noticeably struggling so I told her to let me know how she felt (Saturday) morning and she emailed me that she didn’t think she’d be able to go and our trainer confirmed it.”
UD, which jumped out to an 11-0 lead and had a 24-15 edge at break, saw its lead whittled to 30-29 when Sydney Ralph hit a three with 6:15 to play. Anna Barry had 14 to pace East.
Amy Ngo responded with a baseline runner then made it a five point game for a few possessions.
With 2:45 left, Ngo found Zacharia on the left wing. The junior, an excellent first baseman in softball, hasn’t played a ton of minutes but she seems to always deliver when called upon and did so again by drilling a three to make it 37-29.
“She gets the concept of ‘team,’ there’s been a couple games this year where she hasn’t played but is always ready,” Funsten said. “We trust we can put her in at any tough spot. She made the shot of the game and shot it with confidence.
Ngo added two free throws a minute later to cap the 7-0 run that gave Upper Dublin enough cushion to make it to the buzzer.
Upper Dublin is seeking its first SOL title and will play in its first title game since 2020 when the Cardinals lost to CB West.
NESHAMINY 54, NORTH PENN 36
A monster second quarter helped the SOL Patriot champions down the SOL Colonial champs and avenge a regular season loss.
Trailing 11-5 after eight minutes, Neshaminy out-scored the host Knights 21-4 in the second for a 26-15 halftime lead. Neshaminy’s win also snapped a 17-game winning streak for North Penn, which hadn’t lost since Dec. 19 against CB East.
North Penn won the third 12-8, but Neshaminy only built on its 34-27 lead through the fourth quarter. Reese Zemitis led the way for Neshaminy with 26 points.
Neshaminy’s only other SOL title game appearance came in 2019, a loss to Abington
The title game also pits Neshaminy’s Lola Ibarrondo against Upper Dublin’s Amy Ngo, both seniors having committed to play at Holy Family next year.
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