Abington defeated Neshaminy to capture the program’s first ever SOL title. Game photos provided courtesy of John Gleeson. Check back for a gallery of photos.
ABINGTON 51, NESHAMINY 44
Things weren’t exactly going Abington’s way in the first half of Monday night’s SOL title game at Bensalem.
For starters, Kassondra Brown, an undeniable force in the paint, was whistled for her third foul in the opening minute of the second quarter, evoking memories of the first meeting between the two teams – a 59-57 overtime loss that saw Brown foul out with 1:08 remaining in regulation.
The Rhode Island-bound senior acknowledged that she knew she was letting her team down. Brown also knew how she handled her exile to the bench could have a bearing on the outcome.
“I went to the end of the bench, I was cursing myself out in my head, I was just so out of it, and I was so frustrated, but after literally just a few seconds, I thought - my team needs me,” Brown said. “Just my voice on the bench – anything could help them, so I clamped it up, and I got our bench players into it.
“The first time around everyone knows what happened – I fouled out on dumb fouls. I just feel like I grew so much since that first game against them. I’m super proud of my teammates for keeping the game close when I was on the bench.”
The Ghosts led 10-8 when Brown left the game with 7:11 remaining in the second quarter, but they were still very much in it at halftime, trailing by just a 23-17 score. Kristin Curley and Olivia Scotti each scored six points in a second quarter that saw the Redskins outscore the Ghosts 17-7. Camryn Lexow – who had nine points on three three-pointers - and Tamia Wessels – who added seven points - kept the Ghosts afloat in the first half.
The second half was another story entirely.
“I think our motivation at half was to get up in their shorts, play high up on them with ball pressure and make them think under pressure,” said Lexow, the Ghosts’ defensive catalyst.
Brown scored the first basket of the second half after a Whiting steal, but the Redskins opened up a 28-19 lead after a bucket by Curley and a three from well beyond the arc by Brooke Mullin.
Momentum began to swing firmly in the Ghosts’ favor when – after Whiting sank a pair of foul shots – Lexow stole the inbounds on the press, setting up a bucket by Wessels. Another Redskin turnover against the press resulted in a three-point play by Brown, and just like that, the Ghosts were within two.
“I like diamond a lot because we force turnovers, and it gets everyone motivated,” Lexow said. “In the first half, we were one, and we were definitely playing our game, but we turned the ball over so much.
“In the second half, we had a different mentality. We needed to play our game and play as one and establish Kassondra after she came off the bench. The whole team was used to shooting three-pointers, three-pointers, but when Kassondra came back in, we changed the game to get the ball down to her in the post, so she could do what she does down there.”
Coach Dan Marsh acknowledged the Ghosts had to pick the right spot to implement their full-court press.
“We know that once you get to this level and you’re playing really good teams – we will press a whole game, but not a team like Neshaminy because then you’re exposing Kassondra to foul trouble, and you’re also giving up too many easy shots,” the Ghosts’ coach said. “When you have kids like (Allison) Harvey and (Brooke) Mullin who can hit transition threes, you don’t to do that, so we had to pick the right moment.
“Fortunately, we lulled them into thinking we weren’t going to do it and then – bang, we threw it at them, and it changed the game.”
The Redskins, according to coach Joe Lally, knew the press was coming.
“We just didn’t execute,” he said. “It didn’t catch us by surprise at all. We talked about it halftime. We knew it was coming.”
With the Redskins forced to pay attention to Brown, things opened up on the outside. Wessels sandwiched a pair of three-pointers around a Mullin three, and the Ghosts led 32-31. Back-to-back baskets by Kelli Kowalick put the Redskins on top 35-32, and it was still a three-point game after Emily Tantala scored off the dribble. The Redskins took a 38-36 lead into the final quarter.
Brown evened the score when she turned a Miranda Liebtag pass into an easy bucket, and a Liebtag three with 6:25 remaining put the Ghosts on top 41-38. When Mullin turned a steal into a layup midway through the quarter, the Redskins pulled to within one. Brown answered with a basket for the Ghosts. Twice the Redskins pulled to within two – both on baskets by Mullin, but Brown answered the first with a basket in traffic. Whiting answered the second by burying a pair at the foul line with 51 seconds remaining, giving the Ghosts a 48-44 lead. The Redskins did not score the rest of the way.
“It was like a heavyweight fight – we were feeling each other out at the beginning and then we started throwing blows,” Marsh said. “They threw some at us, and we threw some at them. We were lucky to be able to throw the last couple.
“I’m really proud of our girls. They persevered – they didn’t hit the panic button. We had to calm them down a little bit at halftime. They did great.”
Wessels led the Ghosts with 17 points, which included three three-pointers and a perfect 6-for-6 effort at the foul line.
“Tamia can create – when you have a kid like that, we don’t have to run anything for her,” Marsh said. “She can literally take a kid off the dribble and get shots off. We haven’t had that here, and it’s big.”
Brown added 14 points and 11 rebounds – 13 points and eight boards in the second half. Lexow contributed 11 points and Whiting had six.
“They all did their jobs,” Marsh said. “Miranda (Liebtag) did a great job on (Brooke) Mullin. Kassondra (Brown) got her points, and that (third quarter) run we had was all Lexow.”
The SOL title was the first ever for the Ghosts, who advanced to the title game in 2015 but lost to eventual district champion Central Bucks West.
“This means so much,” Brown said. “We accomplished our second goal – we have two more to go. I honestly think we can do it.”
“They know it’s never been won for Abington, and they wanted to do it,” Marsh said. “Some people don’t take this seriously, but our kids wanted it. I think they proved that tonight. I was really proud of them.
“It was a great game. Hats off to Neshaminy. I’m sure we’ll see them again.”
Mullin led the Redskins with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Curley added eight points and Kowalick had seven. Scotti chipped in with six points off the bench.
“It just felt like it wasn’t our night,” Lally said. “I thought the kids played hard. Kassondra (Brown) is just a great player, and when you collapse on her, they have so many shooters. I think we got a lot of good shots that we wanted to get. They just didn’t fall.”
EXTRA SHOTS: Brown wasn’t the only player struggling with foul woes. Neshaminy’s Alexis McCoy picked up her third foul midway through the first quarter. The Ghosts took 28 trips to the foul line and connected on 18 while the Redskins were 6-of-14 from the charity stripe… Abington (21-3, 13-1 SOL) and Neshaminy (21-3, 12-0) both have an opening round bye in the District One 6A Tournament and will return to action Wednesday, Feb. 20. Abington, the tournament’s third seed, will play the winner of the #14 Central Bucks West/#19 Upper Darby game while second-seeded Neshaminy will take on the winner of the #15 Pennsbury/#18 Central Bucks South contest.
Abington 10-7-19-15 51
Neshaminy 6-17-15-6 44
Abington (51) – Tamia Wessels 17, Cam Lexow 11, Kassondra Brown 14, Miranda Liebtag 3, Khalis Whiting 6.
Neshaminy (44) – Brooke Mullin 16, Kristin Curley 8, Alexis McCoy 2, Kelli Kowalick 7, Emily Tantala 4, Olivia Scotti 6, Kaycie Sienko 1.