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Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2014:03:03 16:42:31

Abington Heights girls basketball player Breanna Toro was described by her coach as a “defensive force” PHOTO TOM BONOMO

One of Breanna Toro’s goals for her senior season was within grasp on Wednesday, Feb. 26, when she and her Abington Heights teammates journeyed to Wilkes University’s Marts Center for a District 2 Class AAA girls basketball semifinal against second-seeded Holy Redeemer.

Never mind that the Lady Comets were the sixth seed, all that mattered to Toro was that a state playoff berth went to the winning team and, after missing out last year, Toro wanted back into the state tournament.

It took two overtimes, but Toro didn’t mind the extra minutes as Abington Heights delivered a 41-39 victory.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Toro said. “There are no words to describe this feeling. We always had the passion, and we really wanted to get back there.”

The Lady Comets senior struggled on offense with just four points, but there was no better defender than Toro, who has excelled on defense all year and saved up a superb performance with 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.

“I was happy but disappointed that I didn’t make my shots,” Toro said. “We wanted that game so badly.”

The victory that secured the state playoff berth was just one of many that highlighted Toro’s defensive play this season. In fact, her coach says she’s been on a roll of late.

“She’s been a defensive force,” Abington Heights head girls basketball coach Vince Bucciarelli said of Toro’s play in the Lady Comets’ district playoff wins over Dallas, third-seeded Crestwood and Holy Redeemer. “She’s usually going up against two bigs [tall players] on the opposing team.”

Holy Redeemer featured 5-foot, 10-inch Alexis Lewis, who did score 24 of the Lady Royals’ 39 points in the semifinal. But Lewis had to take 26 field goal attempts to get those points, which spotlighted Toro’s impact on the game.

“She altered a lot of shots against Lewis, who is a leaper,” Bucciarelli said. “She’s played three great defensive games. [In the semifinal,] she was unbelievable.”

All the hard work that Toro put in over the last off-season, the preseason and the regular season, paid off with a great dividend of returning to the state playoffs.

“This year she had to step up,” Bucciarelli said. “A lot of teams have two girls 5-11, 6 feet tall, but she’s been taking care of business inside. I feel she’s the best big defender in the league, the best shot-blocker in the league by far, and that’s saying a lot.”

It hasn’t been easy for Toro, who spends quite a bit of time squashing her inner impulse of going after every shot with the intent of blocking it into the stands.

“It really kills me,” Toro said. “I know I can’t get all of them, so in the first two quarters, I’m constantly just trying to stay in the game, to back off and keep the pressure on.”

It has been a good way for her to avoid accumulating unnecessary fouls early in the game. That keeps her on the court, which is extremely important for a Lady Comets team that is generally small as Toro is the lone starter taller than 5 foot, 7 inches.

“She has improved her shot blocking, and her ability to stay out of foul trouble,” Bucciarelli said. “We lost a [tall] player who decided to leave the team, and we really needed her to play a little smarter because she has to stay in games. She has certainly done that.”

Toro deflects the credit by insisting the Lady Comets have done this as a group — but she has had a hand in binding the unit together, showing that her leadership skills may be just as important as her defensive skills.

“We’ve made a big improvement as a team,” Toro said. “We’re getting all on the same page.”

It helps when the team really enjoys being together and Toro said that has taken some time and a lot of effort.

“We’ve done a lot of team bonding,” Toro said. “We have a connection to everybody on the team. We don’t want anyone to feel left out.”

Nobody does feel left out, and Bucciarelli appreciates the effort that his senior players have put into the group.

“She did what she had to do,” Bucciarelli said. “The seniors led by example, and she’s been a big part of that.”

It has been a long road, as Toro worked her way into the Lady Comets rotation by coming off the bench as a freshman before starting for the last three years for Bucciarelli. But the coach has been impressed by Toro for an even longer period.

“She’s a great kid. I got to work with her in seventh and eighth grade thinking she could be something special,” Bucciarelli said.

Toro has turned out to be just that for Bucciarelli and the Abington Heights girls basketball program.