Scranton Prep junior guard Jess Genco’s effort at the defensive end of the floor played a big role in the Classics’ 33-29 win over Abington Heights in the District 2 Class AAA girls title game Saturday at Marywood University, but it was her clutch free throws in the final seconds that sealed the victory.
Abington Heights (16-10) will play District 11 runner-up Allentown Central Catholic (24-3) in the first-round of the PIAA playoffs on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Marywood University. Scranton Prep (25-1) will play District 4 runner-up Danville Area (21-4) at 7:30 p.m. at the same venue.
Genco, who scored 10 points and had five steals, stepped to the line with Prep leading by two points with 18.9 seconds left in the game and calmly hit two free throws.
After a layup by Abington Heights guard Catie Nealon cut the lead back to two points with 11.1 seconds left, Genco knocked down two more shots at the charity stripe to clinch Scranton Prep’s first girls district title since 2002.
“I know that district championships are never handed to you,” Genco said, “they’re always earned. I knew that Abington (Heights) was going to come out and give a good fight. I felt like my team was really working hard on the defensive end and I needed to put those in.”
The game was scoreless until Nealon sank a foul shot with 3:41 left in the first quarter. Genco answered with a 3-pointer on Prep’s next possession. Those scoring plays, and a bucket from Abington Heights forward Elizabeth Bamford, accounted for the only points in the quarter.
“We had a sloppy first half and settled for some long shots,” Scranton Prep head coach Ross Macciocco said. “I thought we did a better job of breaking them down in the second half.”
Scranton Prep senior guard Tricia Byrne, a Holy Cross University recruit, who led the Classics with 13 points, scored eight in the second quarter, but Scranton Prep trailed 15-14 at the half after Nealon hit a runner before time expired.
“Abington (Heights) came out to play,” Byrne said. “I give so much credit to their team because they fought as the underdog to make it to the district championship and they really proved themselves out on the floor today.
“Fortunately, for me, I have great teammates that surround me on the floor and they were able to set me up for great shots with good passes and good screens.”
Then, The Classics scored 10 of the first 13 points of the third quarter to stretch their lead to 24-18, before Nealon hit a deep 3-pointer to cut the lead to three entering the final quarter.
“The girls set me really nice screens to come off and shoot,” Nealon said, “and they gave me great passes. I give all the credit to them. We worked unbelievably hard at practice the last two weeks, and I think that shows after we beat Crestwood and Holy Redeemer. We came up short, but we’re really proud.”
Nealon, who led all scorers with 16 points, swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game at 27 with 1:35 left, but Scranton Prep’s Clare Philbin answered with a basket and steal setting up Genco to ice the game.
“Defense is important for us,” Byrne said, “especially when we become stagnant on offense and unfortunately today that happened more times than not. Defense wins championships and I think our play was a perfect example of how true that statement is.”
A 2 of 8 shooting performance from the foul line also factored into the Lady Comets inability to pull out the win.
Despite the loss, Abington Heights head coach Vince Bucciarelli was pleased with his team’s effort during postseason play.
“I just told them to play hard, and they did today,” he said. “The free throws won the game for us last week against (Holy) Redeemer and today they haunted us a little bit, but I couldn’t be more proud of the girls.
“I thought they did a great job, especially on the defensive end. There is nothing to hang our heads about. We lost to a quality ball club and we beat three quality ball clubs to get here.”