Ghosts' District Title a Team Effort

Carli Fitzgerald wasn’t really expecting to see any playing time in Friday night’s District One AAAA title contest against Cheltenham at Villanova University. 

“I’d been sick the last two days, and I thought I wasn’t going to play because when you miss practice you don’t usually play,” said the Abington junior reserve after the game.
 
Fitzgerald – a standout lacrosse player – had seen limited varsity action this season, but coach Dan Marsh told her to be ready.
 
“It’s funny,” the Ghosts’ coach said. “I told her before the game, ‘This is the type of game I might need you, so be ready.’”
 
Sure enough, Marsh needed Fitzgerald, and if you’re looking for the definition of pressure, this is it. The junior guard received the call to enter the game in the third quarter when the Ghosts found themselves in foul trouble and clinging to a tenuous lead.
 
“Through the whole game, I was nervous but trying to be ready,” Fitzgerald said. “When he told me to go in, I was like, ‘Okay, calm down. It’s just a game.’”
 
That’s easier said than done in such a high-stakes setting.
 
Late in the third quarter with the score deadlocked 30-30, Fitzgerald – who was assigned the task of shadowing senior standout Shayla Felder - was fouled going back up after pulling down an offensive rebound. She missed both shots.
 
With the Lady Panthers trailing by just two (42-40) and the Ghosts spreading the floor as time was winding down in the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald once again found herself back on the foul line – this time for a crucial one-and-one.
 
“I figured I just had to calm myself down and use my legs because I knew I could make them,” Fitzgerald said. “The first time I was so nervous I was jumbled, so this time I tried to calm myself down and shoot.”
 
Fitzgerald – the picture of grace under pressure - calmly buried both shots to put the Ghosts on top 44-40 with 1:35 remaining.
 
“That’s huge pressure,” said Marsh, whose team went on to earn a 54-44 win and the district title. “When we pulled the ball out, I thought it might be a little early to start moving the ball and letting them foul us. When they cut it to two, I’m thinking, ‘Did I do the right thing?’ since we don’t shoot free throws well.
 
“That’s the first time Carli has gone to the line this year (for the varsity). She’s such a great kid, and I’m so happy for her.”
 
According to Leer, no one deserved a moment in the sun more than Fitzgerald.
 
“She’s a player that comes in once in a while, doesn’t really get a chance to shine, but she never, ever comes off as being disinterested in things,” the Ghosts’ captain said. “She’s always the one scouting the other teams, going to all the games and watching the other teams even though she knows she might not get in the game.
 
“I have always loved that about her – she’s so dedicated. She was just coming off strep throat, and to step up like that – that’s the one person that I’m so happy had the opportunity to shine like that.”
 
The foul shots were Fitzgerald’s only points of the game, but her contribution underscored that this was indeed a team effort by the Ghosts. While Leer deservedly finds herself in the headlines – she had 20 points, 11 rebounds and was a presence at both ends of the court in Friday’s win, the senior standout is surrounded by players who fill their roles.
 
Consider only senior captain Lauren Peretti, who’s been an integral part of the squad despite limited playing time.
 
“She’s one of those kids that sets the tone for the work ethic,” Marsh said. “Every day she’s first in sprints and doesn’t let anybody do less than what they can, and if they do, she’ll get in their face.
 
“She’s the one that starts the chants on the bench, and she keeps the kids focused and in the game.”
 
Peretti was actually cut from the team as a freshman, but she opted to play for the ninth grade squad and came back the following year.
 
She says she never lost her love for the game.
 
“I love playing, I love the atmosphere, and it’s just an awesome experience to be a part of,” Peretti said.
 
“Her whole goal was just to play and be a part of the team,” Marsh said.
 
This season, Peretti suffered a pair of concussions within three weeks. She was encouraged to give up basketball but talked her doctor into giving her the green light to continue.
 
Her return to the practice floor coincided with the Ghosts’ turnaround after suffering back-to-back losses to Council Rock South and Council Rock North late in the regular season.
 
“Without Lauren – who knows?” Marsh said. “When we got her back on the practice floor, we could directly attribute that to our season turnaround because she wasn’t there being the leader in practice.
 
“She’s a captain for a reason, not just because she’s a senior, but she’s a leader on the team, for sure.”
 
Peretti takes it upon herself to keep the morale of her teammates up. She’s the first to offer a pat on the back or a word of encouragement.
 
“I make sure the bench is cheering and everyone on the court – I make sure their heads are up, and they just stay 100 percent positive and never beat themselves up if they did something wrong,” she said. “If they come out because they made a mistake, I’m the first one to say, ‘Look, don’t worry about it. Just get back in there and don’t do it again.’
 
“I stay 110 percent positive the whole way and make sure everyone else is staying positive too.”
 
Ask Peretti what made this year’s squad so successful, and the senior captain makes no mention of the squad’s individual talent.
 
“I think it’s just the chemistry we have together,” Peretti said. “We’re a very supportive team. We never put anyone down. We’re always there for each other.
 
“We rely on each other and know that when something goes wrong, someone else can help pick it up. We’re a family, a complete family.”
 
And on Friday night with a district championship on the line, that family came together and won the big prize.
 
The more prominent members of the Abington family – Leer, Aiyannah Peal, Chynna West, Jamie Shectman and Jessica Schmidt – certainly had their moments as well, but it’s the contributions of the lesser-known players that sometimes go unnoticed but – in the end – might be the difference between winning and losing a district crown.
 
“It was awesome,” Peretti said of Friday night’s district title win. “I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. It was just incredible. I was at a loss for words. All I could do was scream because I was so happy.
 
“I just always had the feeling that this year we were going to go all the way and win it. I knew in my heart the whole time that we had the talent, we had the attitude, and I could see it coming.

“From the start of the season up until now, it’s been an incredible experience. I can’t put it into words. It’s just been awesome, and I’m so thankful to be a part of it.”