HERSHEY, Pa. — Fittingly, the scrappy Upper Dublin girls' basketball team capped its improbable playoff run with a down-to-the-wire, nail-biting victory.
This time, in an all-District 1 state final, it used a rookie's stellar play and strong defense down the stretch to come out on top.
Behind freshman Jess Polin's season-high 17 points, the Cardinals edged fellow Suburban One League member Central Bucks South, 41-39, Tuesday night to capture the PIAA Class 6A championship at the Giant Center. The difference was Polin's two free throws with 33 seconds remaining in the contest.
Upper Dublin gained the program's first state title with a lineup that featured Polin, fellow freshman and three-point threat Dayna Balasa, and up-and-coming sophomore Jackie Vargas.
Of Polin and Balasa, Cardinals coach Morgan Funsten said, "We don't treat them like freshmen, and they don't play like freshmen."
Despite placing ninth in the District 1 tournament, the Cardinals (27-5) found a way to make it to Chocolatetown and capture the first-place trophy.
Against C.B. South, which placed second to Souderton in districts, Polin shot 5 for 6 from the field (3 for 4 from three-point land) and 4 for 5 from the line.
"We just had so much fight in us," the 15-year-old from Maple Glen said. "We were not going to come home with a loss."
Balasa drained three of seven attempts from beyond the arc for nine points; the 6-foot-3 Vargas contributed eight points, seven boards, five blocks, and two assists; and senior Nicole Kaiser posted seven points and five boards. Vargas made a key inside block with 18 seconds left.
"I'm just so proud of these girls," Funsten said. "With the run we went on in the playoffs, I thought we deserved this to happen."
Junior guard Alexa Brodie ignited the Titans (27-4) with 20 points and four steals. Senior wing Haley Meinel, who will continue her career at Jefferson University, was next in line with 13 points, five boards, three steals, and two blocks.
Meinel's steal and layup gave C.B. South a 32-25 advantage with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter. But Upper Dublin closed the stanza with an 8-0 burst that was made up of Balsa's trey, Polin's putback, and Kaiser's trey.
Cardinals senior point guard Maggie Weglos was held scoreless but handed out four assists and grabbed the same number of boards. "We are not close to being in this spot if not for her," Funsten said. "In this game, she made some nice stops on Brodie at the end."
Down by 16-11 midway through the second quarter, Upper Dublin went in front for the first time thanks to Vargas' three straight buckets.
Meinel's two free throws and Brodie's driving layup gave the Titans a 20-17 lead. Polin, who honed her skills at Sandy Run Middle School in Dresher, evened things going into intermission with a right-wing trey at the buzzer.
Central Bucks South 9 11 12 7-39
Upper Dublin 9 11 13 8-41
CBS: Alexa Brodie 20, Haley Meinel 13, Maddie McShane 4, Lindsay Scott 2.
UD: Nicole Kaiser 7, Jackie Vargas 8, Jess Polin 17, Dayna Balasa 9.