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Girls basketball: West heads to states, district final four

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Point guard Liv Irons explained the large poster in Central Bucks West’s locker room. “Our team came together and talked about what we wanted for the season, game goals and season goals,” she said. “We just keep checking them off.”

The Sharpie that checks off West’s goals may soon run out of ink. After running the table in the SOL Continental and winning the SOL tournament, No. 2 CB West (22-4) achieved another goal with its PIAA berth-clinching 52-41 win over No. 15 Neshaminy (15-9) in last Wednesday’s District One Class 6A second round.

Slow starts plagued the Bucks in the SOL tournament and Neshaminy scored on four of its first five possessions to take a 10-6 lead. Irons’ 3-point play cut Neshaminy’s advantage to 18-17, yet the Bucks entered intermission trailing 24-21. West contained 1,000-point scorer Kristin Curley; Emily Tantala and Olivia Scotti combined for 18 of the Redskins’ 24 first-half points.

“They found open shots and (Tantala) and (Scotti) are great shooters,” West coach Zach Sibel pointed out. “We started shading to (Tantala’s) side a bit more and finding her on switches. I think we did a nice job on that in the second half.”

Emily Spratt’s free throw cut Neshaminy’s lead to 30-28. Paige Gilbert grabbed the rebound from Spratt’s second attempt and found Maddie Burke for a three. Gilbert then stole – again found Burke – and arguably the best shooter in the state sank another triple to put West up for good 34-30.

“I try to bring as much energy as I can,” offered Gilbert, a William & Mary lacrosse commit. “They usually come in and double the ball so someone is going to be open and I’m not going to take it if I’m not in a good position. I can kick it to Maddie or anybody who is open.”

The Bucks led 36-33 after three; Spratt and Gilbert opened the fourth quarter with two lunch-pail putbacks in traffic to extend West’s margin to seven.

“We were more confident in our sets. We said at halftime to keep making the extra pass,” Irons shared. “And getting into gaps, finding shooters. We put more of an emphasis on finding each other than just getting to the rim.”

“I feel like the attitude is so uplifting,” Spratt added. “If we miss a layup, it’s like ‘OK, now we’re on defense. Let’s get it back.’ We’re never going to blame someone for trying to do something good for our team. It’s very confidence boosting.”

Curley’s 3-ball cut West’s led to 42-38 with 3:17 left but Irons calmly hit six straight free throws down the stretch to ice the win.

Tantala and Scotti combined for just five second-half points, giving Curley few options. “The first half, it was not helping off of (Curley), staying close to her hip and keeping her to her left,” Spratt said. “She is an all-around great player so it’s hard to keep her contained for a full game.”

The Bucks outscored their opponents 103-64 in the last three quarters of their first three playoff games. “We really trust each other. We play well together because everybody has their role and performs their thing,” Gilbert added.

Sibel said that West’s slow first quarters “falls on me. These are all big games against incredible opponents so to see the girls take a punch and throw one back is big,” the coach said figuratively. “We’ll definitely look to throw that first punch moving forward.”

Burke’s 16 and Irons’ 14 points led West. Spratt added 11 points. Gilbert, a heroine of the SOL tournament, hauled in a dozen rebounds and had four assists.

The Bucks go eight deep. Per Sibel, reserves Maddie McGarry brings “energy, length and athleticism,” Anna Blue “does things that don’t show up in the box score but affect the game” and center Lilly Evans brings physicality when West goes big.

West advanced to Wednesday’s district semifinals against Spring-Ford with its 68-59 Saturday win over No. 10 North Penn. Results were unavailable at press time.

“We can trust each other to make plays when we need to. And when you have Maddie Burke out there hitting shots like that to get you going,” Sibel concluded, “everyone else feels it too.”


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