And their pursuit of perfection at the foul line went a long way toward making the night perfect for the St. Pius X boys basketball team. Hitting a slew of free throws in the stretch run of their contest with Owen J. Roberts, the Winged Lions' senior put the finishing touches on a 58-54 victory on the first night of the Pioneer Athletic Conference's Final Four playoffs.
DiFebbo and Bilinski went a combined 9-for-12 in six trips to the line inside the final four minutes, enabling Pius (17-6 overall) to stem OJR's comeback bid and secure the victory at Ursinus College. It qualified the third-seeded Lions for Tuesday's PAC championship against top seed Spring-Ford, which rolled to a 58-39 win over Perkiomen Valley in the first semifinal.
"We were trying to get the ball in his and Dave's hands," Pius head coach Randy Reber said, a reference to DiFebbo's 5-for-6 accuracy in the final frame. "They made some clutch throws."
None more clutch than those Bilinski converted in the final 16 seconds, with the Lions holding a tenuous 55-54 lead. Drawing a foul from the Wildcats' Willie Miller, Bilinski hit the second of his two tries to double Pius' lead. The next time down the floor, he cleared the rebound off Chad Piersol's missed drive through the lane, was fouled by Kevin Raab, and made both shots to cap the nail-biting affair.
"There were three or four times, late in the game, where I was put on the foul line to ice it," Bilinski noted. "I wanted to sink both."
DiFebbo's free-throw numbers were even more eye-popping: He made 12 of 14 en route to finishing with a game-high 21 points, heading a trio of double-figure Lions that included Chris Flick (13 points) and Matt King (12). It all helped put Roberts (18-5), the playoffs' second seed, on the short end of the score from the opening minutes of the first period to the midway point in the fourth, when Jon Michewicz (17 points) nailed a 3-point bucket to give the 'Cats a 49-46 lead that ended up being their only one of the game.
"First off, I want to congratulate Pius ... they played much tougher," Roberts' floor boss Ted Snyder said. "That was the worst we played all year. We passed the ball poorly, and didn't play defense well."
Snyder also cited the number of fouls called on his players in the fourth - at least seven that sent the Lions to the line, compared to three on Pius in the same span - as a factor posing problems for his club.
"We're usually straight up," he said. "But tonight there was a quick whistle, and that hurt us."
Michewicz and Piersol finished up with respective 17- and 16-point totals for Roberts, after being held to a combined 13 in the first half. Miller came off the bench in the second quarter to give the Wildcats another 12, helping them cut Pius' lead to four (31-27) at intermission.
"They (OJR) outplayed us the first two times," Bilinski said. "We wanted to hustle a bit more.
"We played a lot better defense this time," he added. "The first game, we were trying to figure them out. The second time, it was the third game in a three-game week."
NOTES ... DiFebbo ended up getting treatment afterward for an ankle injury sustained in the game's closing seconds. But Reber doesn't figure it to keep DiFebbo out of action for the title game. ... Raab made a slight uniform change during the game, wearing the number 24 jersey in the second half after starting the game with his customary 13.