The Central Bucks West girls are entering the postseason on a roll, having gone unbeaten – 12-0 – in the Suburban One League (SOL) Continental Conference.
The last time the Bucks went without a loss in the SOL – in 2015, they won districts and went all the way to the state final. Since then, West has either failed to qualify for the PIAA tournament (2016, 2018) or it has lost in the opening round of states (2017, 2019).
This is the final season, however, that the Bucks will have senior Maddie Burke, a 6-foot shooting guard who surpassed 1,000 varsity points in December and committed to Penn State last summer.
A first-team All-SOL delegate in each of her first three years who has also garnered All-PIAA honors, Burke has led West to a 69-31 record including 20-4 this season.
Burke entered her senior campaign with career numbers of 968 points (12.4 PPG), 493 rebounds (6.32 RPG), 193 blocks (2.5 BPG), 176 steals (2.26 SPG) and 93 assists (1.2 APG) in 78 games played.
In last Saturday’s SOL tournament semifinal against Pennsbury, in a defensive matchup that saw 35 fouls called against both sides in the contest, Burke was held without a field goal in the first two quarters, a first half that sent the Bucks into the locker room facing a 17-10 deficit.
Burke finally got uncorked in the second half, canning four shots from the floor including three from beyond the arch to lead the CB West scoring effort with 13 points. Her first 3-pointer in the fourth quarter put West in the lead for good and her second trey gave the Bucks a 29-23 edge with two-and-a-half minutes to go in the SOL tournament skirmish.
“Maddie does what Maddie does,” said CB West first-year head coach Zach Sibel. “She always steps up when she really needs to. She’s not only a heckuva basketball player, she’s a heckuva leader, too.
“To get that energy going and get the flow going and see the ball go through the basket was important for us and helped us down the stretch.”
CB West went on to a 30-23 triumph over the Falcons and then defeated Upper Dublin 38-33 in the SOL championship Feb. 10 at Council Rock South.
In the closing moments of the contest, the Bucks got a key layup from sophomore Emily Spratt, a putback basket from junior Paige Gilbert, a pair of free throws from senior Jess Broskey and two more from Burke to help seal the five-point victory over the Cardinals. Anna Blue and Spratt led the Bucks with nine points each; Gilbert finished the contest with eight points.
The Bucks got off to a slow start against Pennsbury, emerging from the first period trailing 10-3 after hitting just a single shot from the floor, a lone 3-pointer from the corner by senior Olivia Irons.
“They were playing man-to-man defense and putting pressure on our guards,” explained Sibel. “We weren’t making the right read on first dribbles and first steps all the time.
Sibel was the Rick & Chris Block Scholarship winner and a Pennsbury senior in 2011, the last year that current Falcon girls skipper Frank Sciolla guided the Pennsbury boys team. With his knowledge of the Falcon coach, Sibel had to know the Bucks were in for a defensive matchup.
“Frank’s always been a great coach and great, defensively, as well,” Sibel said. “And they do a really nice job scheming them up.
“We knew we’d have to handle some of that. When shots aren’t falling, rebounds start to get lopsided, something that we pride ourselves on.”
While West trailed by seven at the half, it started its comeback bid in the second quarter, beginning the frame with a 7-2 run that drew the Bucks within a pair after junior Lilly Evans canned 1-of-2 free throws. Evans’ shots from the line came after four straight misses from the floor – and four consecutive offensive rebounds – by CB West.
Both sides kept chipping away at one another and game officials weren’t shy about blowing that whistle. Burke had two fouls five minutes into the first quarter, Gilbert drew her second with two and a half minutes left in the half and Spratt was called for her second infraction two minutes before the break.
“We have some really tough kids who were able to weather that,” said Sibel. “We said over the winter break, ‘a calm sea never made for a skilled sailor.’
“Handling adversity, not seeing shots go in, to get to the free throw line and get some layups going, it helped us tip the momentum in our favor.”
Coming back from the break, Burke opened with a floating jumper from inside the lane but a steal and ensuing layup that was waved off resulted in a charging call, giving her three fouls midway through the third period.
Later on in the third quarter, Irons was also called for a charge and had her layup waved off, giving her four fouls in the contest. Amazingly, no one fouled out of the game.
“When you have 17 fouls called on your team and nobody fouls out, it’s pretty crazy,” stated Sibel. “I’ve actually never seen it myself.
“But Pennsbury is a smart team. They are going to make the right slides, they are going to step in and take charges. That’s an adjustment we had to make as an offense, finding the place where that help side was coming from.”
CB West drew its share of charges in the skirmish with Gilbert drawing at least three of them. An offensive foul called on the opponent was the reason why Pennsbury senior Mary Miller saw a basket waved off in the second period and why junior Bella Arcurri had one taken away in the final frame.
“That’s what Paige does; she’s a hustle player,” explained Sibel. “She brings energy and she lifts the energy of your entire team.
“She’s a smart kid and so unbelievably tough.”
Though the Falcons gave his team fits at times, Sibel thinks the Bucks can benefit from what it learned in the SOL tournament semifinal.
“When you’re able to handle that type of adversity in a game, you’re happy to have that experience,” he said. “That’s an experience that we’ll be able to take with us going into the district playoffs.
Seeded at No. 2 in the District One Class 6A rankings, CB West earned a bye in round one and will host either No. 15 Neshaminy or No. 18 Pennridge Feb. 19 in the Round of 16.
Note: West also faced Pennsbury in last year’s District One Class 6A tournament with the Bucks emerging with a 47-32 triumph in a playback that sent West to states.
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