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Lebisky delivers game-winner as Phoenixville takes first PAC crown since '07

02/15/2024, 12:00am EST
By Andrew Robinson

By Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3)

COLLEGEVILLE — Even with every set of eyes in the gym fixed on him, Brady O’Donnell kept his eyes looking toward Max Lebisky.

As Phoenixville’s possession in the waning seconds of a tied PAC championship game started to break down, the ball wound up in the hands of O’Donnell with an open lane beckoning him to take it. Starting his drive, the attention of everyone in the Perk Valley gym shifted to the Phantoms guard, while all O’Donnell saw was Lebisky coming open on a baseline cut.

Lebisky’s layup with 1.6 seconds left sent Phoenixville to a 54-52 win over top-seeded Spring-Ford, the Phantoms winning their first PAC title since 2007 in an outstanding game Wednesday night.

“That was not a drawn up play, it just happened to end up like that,” Lebisky said. “It’s a hell of a play by Brady, to see him pop up and throw it down to me, just a great play.”

O’Donnell, a junior, certainly saved his best for last Wednesday night. Aside from the game-winning assist, the guard scored all five of his points in the fourth quarter, which started with the teams tied 39-39 and saw eight minutes of big play after big play exchanged between the two sides.

A year ago, these Phantoms didn’t even make the PAC playoffs. They graduated one senior and essentially brought everybody back a year wiser, better and very much hungrier to tap into the potential they all had.

Yet there was O’Donnell, a player who started the season on the JV roster, driving down the lane and giving up a potential moment of glory because he saw the right guy in the right spot and trusted the result.

“I didn’t know I was going to do it, but they were focused on all the better players so I knew there was going to be a hole for me when I got to the top,” O’Donnell said. “I drove down, I knew they’d have to help up because they had to, so I just dished off to Max.

“I knew he was going to finish that.”

Phoenixville prides itself on being a hard-working community where toughness is highly valued. Phantoms coach Eric Burnett learned that firsthand during his high school career when he played for the Spring-Ford program that he opposed on Wednesday night.

Burnett won a PAC title as a junior but in 2005, during his senior year, it was Phoenixville that defeated him and the Rams in the championship game. Phoenixville would win another PAC title two years later, then came a 17-year drought that didn’t even see the program get back to another title game, much less win one.

That ended Wednesday night.

“One thing I always tell these guys is that Phoenixville was always known for being tough as nails,” Burnett said. “Every time Spring-Ford played Phoenixville, we knew what we were in for because it was that Phoenixville way of being tough, a blue-collar town and hard-working. I tried to instill that in these guys as much as we can and it’s been a lot of fun.”

Jacob Nguyen opened the game with back-to-back deep three-point makes, spotting Spring-Ford a six-point lead it would keep on a yo-yo string for most of the first half. Phoenixville would get a basket or two, then the Rams would push it back to six and even when the Phantoms rallied to tie the game 17-17, it was the top-seeded PAC Liberty champions immediately scoring the next six.

Spring-Ford led 23-21 at the half, but if anything, it might have been the Phantoms who felt better about it.

“We have seven seniors and the friendship and togetherness they have is what it’s all about,” Burnett said. “We talked about the journey and it’s been a constant thing we’ve been talking about, so we knew this is what we were capable of and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”

O’Donnell added that surviving a good shooting half by Spring-Ford and only trailing by two while most of his team’s big scorers had been quiet  inspired plenty of confidence in the Phantoms.

“Our journey has been amazing,” O’Donnell said. “We knew this was our year. We have a bunch of seniors, a bunch of guys who just know how to play, so was this going to be the year to win it.”

Rams coach Joe Dempsey was very complimentary of Phoenixville while also stressing how proud he was of his team for delivering such a strong performance in a high-pressure game. The entire second half was a display of resilience by both teams, Spring-Ford enduring a 9-2 run by Phoenixville before rallying back on two big-time threes by EJ Campbell to set up the 39-39 tie going to the fourth.

“We’re disappointed, something like this happens and you tell the guys to stick together and we’ll examine what went wrong and how we could have helped them,” Dempsey said. “They played hard, somebody had to lose and it came down to one tough play. Nobody likes to lose like that on a last-second play but we ran the regular season with a lot of expectations and only lost one game.”

Campbell and Nguyen were typically outstanding for the Rams, combining for 45 points between them. They also scored all but two of Spring-Ford’s points in the second half, with Nguyen hitting what would have been the shot of the game on any other occasion.

After O’Donnell had connected on a three from the corner to pull Phoenixville into a 42-42 tie, the Rams missed a potential tying shot from the corner, only for Campbell to get the offensive board and back-tap it out to Nguyen. The junior stepped into a shot about two feet past the halfcourt logo, hitting nothing but net on the way down while eclipsing 1,000 points for his career.

“He’s an all-time guard and he’s a terrific kid, his family is just terrific,” Dempsey said. “He’s a tremendous young man, a great player and even better kid. He’s only a junior and to break 1,000, I just hope he’s able to stay healthy and I know I’m lucky to coach a player like that.”

A different Phoenixville team might have buckled giving up that kind of shot. While Lebisky paid the shot it’s due credit, the Phantoms senior also pointed out that O’Donnell scored on the next possession to get the lead back to one and also credited Dawson Brown - who led Phoenixville with 18 points - for a clutch three later in the quarter that put the Phantoms in the lead briefly.

“The way we are together, our fabric, we’re such a tight group,” Lebisky said. “For the past two years, it’s the same group as last year, we just trust each other. A shot like that, there’s not much you can do if he’s pulling from darn near halfcourt, you just have to keep playing.” 

Lebisky split a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left for a 52-50 Phoenixville lead. Campbell got fouled going to the rim with 21.1 on the clock, the senior guard sinking both to knot it up and set up Phoenixville’s final possession.

The plan was to get Lebisky the ball, just not the way it ended up happening. 

“That broke down and I cut,” Lebisky, who tallied 17 points, said. “The lane opened up for Brady and he took it. They didn’t want to give up a layup, so they helped up and again, hell of a pass by him.”

Burnett called O’Donnell the “glue guy” of the team, citing the junior’s ability to guard multiple positions, his toughness and smarts as factors that earned him a spot off the bench. 

With every set of eyes in the gym fixated on his next move, all O’Donnell’s eyes saw was the little wave Lebisky gave before making his cut to the basket. 

“He was on JV to start the season,” Lebisky said. “For him to come in and make a play like that, it’s just amazing.”

Campbell was able to get a heave off at the buzzer but it when it was off the mark, a celebration 17 years in waiting finally broke out on the court. Once they had the PAC trophy in their hands, one of the Phantoms implored their leader, “lift it, Max.”

The senior happily complied.

“One of the best moments of my life, to be honest,” O’Donnell said. “We knew Spring-Ford would be the toughest team we played all year but we also knew we had it in us. They beat us earlier in the year, but we’ve gotten so much better.

“Our fabric as a team has just been so good recently.”

By Quarter

PHOENIXVILLE 13 | 8 | 18 | 15 || 54

SPRING-FORD 16 | 7 | 16 | 13 || 52


P: Dawson Brown 18, Max Lebisky 17, Brady O’Donnell 5, Aidan McClintock 5, Deacon Baratta 4, Christian Cervino 3, Kevon Booth 2

SF: Jacob Nguyen 26, EJ Campbell 19, Tommy Kelly 4, Jordan Marsilio 2, Oben Mokonchu 1

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