By: Jordan Hirsh

February 25, 2023

FAIRLESS HILLS, PA. – The 11-seed Pennsbury Lady Falcons defeated the 19-seed Upper Dublin Lady Cardinals in the quarterfinals of the PIAA 6A District One playoffs on Saturday, 32-27, in overtime.

As expected, this game was a tough, grind-it-out affair. Entering the matchup, Pennsbury was holding their opponents to just 30.9 points per game this season, while Upper Dublin was only allowing 32.5 points per game.

Early on, it was obvious that every possession would be critical. Both teams got practically no open looks in the first half, and at the break, the Lady Falcons held a 12-10 lead. Sofia Vitucci led all scorers with 9 points at halftime. For Upper Dublin, junior Amy Ngo and freshman Colleen Besachio were the only first half scorers, each with 5 points.

In the second half, the Lady Cardinals made it clear that they were going to focus on trying to shut down Vitucci. They consistently double and even triple teamed her, forcing her to take difficult shot after difficult shot. As a result, Pennsbury’s leading scorer was held off the board for the final sixteen minutes of regulation.

“She was having a hard time making shots and you have to give [Upper Dublin] credit for it,” said Pennsbury head coach, Frank Sciolla, after the game. “They were doing a good job getting underneath of her.”

With Vitucci contained, the Lady Falcons were going to need other players to step up. In the third, they received a much-needed spark from freshman forward Emily Panaro, who hit two big layups to give Pennsbury a 16-15 lead with 4:58 left in the quarter.

Heading into the fourth, the score was tied 21-21. With their seasons on the line, both team’s defenses came up huge down the stretch. The first points of the fourth quarter did not come until the 3:26 mark, when Upper Dublin freshman, Megan Ngo, drilled a three from the left wing to give the Lady Cardinals the lead.

On their ensuing possession, Nevaeh Dash cut the deficit to one for Pennsbury with a tough floater in traffic. Those were Dash’s first points of the day.

With under a minute to play in the fourth, the score remained 24-23. Upper Dublin had the ball out of a stoppage, and were looking to bleed out the clock. However, junior forward Layla Matthias had other plans. She ripped the ball away from Megan Ngo, outletted a pass to Sofia Vitucci, who hit Nevaeh Dash in stride. Dash would be fouled on a go-ahead layup attempt with 29.9 seconds on the clock, and had two free throws to either tie the game, or give the Lady Falcons the lead.

Dash has been Pennsbury’s most clutch player all year. She has come up with huge buckets late in games all season, most recently scoring 12 fourth quarter points in the Lady Falcons second round win over Abington on Wednesday.

After missing the first free throw, Dash stayed calm and nailed the second, tying the score at 24-24. On the next Upper Dublin possession, Pennsbury got the stop they needed as Amy Ngo lost the ball out of bounds while driving in for a layup in the waning seconds of regulation. This quarterfinal matchup would come down to a four-minute overtime period.

Remember how Sofia Vitucci was held scoreless for the entire second half? Well that all changed in OT. On Pennsbury’s first two possessions, Vitucci hit a step back jumper, as well as an unreal left-handed layup while falling to the floor, to give the Lady Falcons a 28-24 lead.

She would then convert on all four of her free throws in the final minute of overtime, and when all was said and done, Pennsbury had a gritty, 32-27, win. Vitucci scored all 8 Lady Falcons’ points in OT.  “It was kind of expected, maybe this game would go to overtime,” said Vitucci postgame. “I came out in the overtime and that’s all that matters.”

On Defense, Pennsbury did an excellent job containing Upper Dublin’s leading scorer, Colleen Besachio, holding her to just 8 points, and just 3 in the second half and overtime.

“We made an adjustment in the second half where we brought our center up higher to make it tougher for [Besachio] to get touches ‘cause they were using her as a release,” coach Sciolla said.

As a result of the win, the Lady Falcons advance to the PIAA 6A District One semifinals for the third time in four years. There, they will meet either the 2-seed Haverford Fords or the 7-seed Springfield-Delco Cougars on Wednesday.

When asked how far she thought Pennsbury could go, Sofia Vitucci had this to say: “This team is something special, and a lot of people, I guess, didn’t expect it, but we’re still goin’ and we’re still here, so we’ll see what happens.”

Pennsbury is the only double-digit seed remaining in the PIAA 6A District One playoffs. So are they a Cinderella?

“I never wanna think that we’re a Cinderella, I never wanna be the underdog in life. But I will say this: If we keep it goin’, Cinderella probably is wearing orange and black slippers,” said Coach Sciolla.