BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – Patti Hower has been scanning the landscape for a sign.
Anything. Imaginary light bulbs turning on above heads. A glimmer of understanding. Something from a practice carrying over to a game.
Last night, a very young Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team grew up a little bit. And it was an inspired senior who showed the way.
During Friday evening’s opener of a girls’/boys’ doubleheader, the fledgling Beavers played their most mature and perhaps complete game of the season, while disposing of rival Annville-Cleona 53-43. Lebanon Catholic made better decisions with the ball, communicated on defense, boxed out and received 26 points from 12th-grade center Hayley Witmer.
While the win was Lebanon Catholic’s third of the year and evened its overall record to .500, it came against the Beavers’ stiffest competition so far. The loss was the Little Dutchmen’s sixth straight to start the season under new head coach Roger Hayes.
“Yes, we did grow up a little,” said Hower, Catholic’s veteran head coach who has eight freshmen rostered. “They (her players) still have a long way to go. But this game was a great learning experience for us. We missed our first four or five tinker shots inside, but they battled back.
“It was our best win of the year,” added Hower. “Annville-Cleona is the best team we’ve beaten. Now they (her players) know what it’s like to win a big game.”
“I think our attitudes are good,” said Hayes. “We just haven’t found ourselves yet. It’s not all on them (his players). It starts with me. I’ve got to find ways to change that.
“We absolutely do have some positives,” Hayes added. “I like our chemistry. I like our competitiveness. We have yet to put together four quarters. Things are going to take time.”
The Beavers also did a good job of playing with the lead. They took control of the outcome late in the first half, and early in the second, and Witmer was right in the middle of it.
The senior post presence tallied Catholic’s final five points of the second quarter, to help the Beavers to a 27-21 lead at the break. Then Witmer knocked down a couple of foul shots to open the third quarter, and when freshman Celine Mars turned a steal into a lay-up, Lebanon Catholic had a 31-21 margin.
“Hayley played an awesome game,” said Hower of Witmer. “She totally dominated the boards. She finished things inside. When she got her hands on the ball, they (the Little Dutchmen) didn’t take it away from her.
“They (her players) have got to have confidence in their other teammates,” continued Hower. “And they’ve got to learn what to do when they have the ball in key situations.”
“Our goal was just to match her physicality,” said Hayes of Witmer. “Obviously we didn’t do that. I thought she carried them (the Beavers) for the whole game, practically. We couldn’t stop her.”
The closest Annville-Cleona would come in the second half was 39-35, thanks to Meredith Bachman’s putback at the end of the third quarter and Hannah Fischer’s steal and lay-up at the beginning of the final period. But Lebanon Catholic would score the next nine points – three from Witmer, a dagger of a trey by freshman guard Mariah Sholly, a jumper from ninth-grader Hannah Callihan off the bench and a foul shot by Mars – to re-extend to 48-35.
Lebanon Catholic connected on six-of-eight charity tosses over the game’s final three minutes.
“I was real happy with the way we played,” said Hower, whose squad moved to 1-3 in Section Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. “The things we talked about in practice, about winning and losing, we did those things. Defensive rebounds. Foul shots are key. Making good decisions.
“We controlled the defensive boards,” Hower continued. “And our foul shooting, it wasn’t great but it was OK. I was happy with the way we handled the end of the game, and the positive vibes we got from our crowd.”
“We’re trying to get better everyday,” said Hayes, whose club slipped to 0-4 in the circuit. “And we’re not there yet. We have to improve everything – on offense, on defense, in transition.
“That’s been the story all year,” continued Hayes. “We get into foul trouble, and we don’t draw enough fouls.”
Witmer got her’s on nine two-pointers and eight-for-14 free throwing. Bachman collected 14 points, while Fischer matched that output.
The Little Dutchmen knocked down a total of seven three-point field goals, but were outscored 50-22 inside the arc and at ‘the line’.
“Every game she’s getting better and better,” said Hower of Sholly’s all-around play. “She’s a true point guard. She can distribute and she can score.”
“They did a nice job of trying to keep us in the game,” said Hayes of Fischer and Bachman. “But because of some missed defensive assignments, Lebanon Catholic answered.
“It’s a learning process for everyone,” continued Hayes. “I told the girls in the locker room to keep their heads up. But there will be no early Christmas.”
A lay-in from Witmer at the first-quarter buzzer gave Catholic an early 10-7 lead. But a three-pointer by Fischer 16 seconds into the second stanza tied the score.
But that would be the Little Dutchmen’s last points over the next two minutes, as the Beavers opened a 17-10 margin on two Witmer inside moves, a Monica Pastal put back and a Mars foul shot.
“I thought they played pretty good,” said Hower of the Little Dutchmen. “They shot the ball pretty well. We were lucky we didn’t have to change our defense. Their outside shots kept them in the game.
“Meredith Bachman, Hannah Fischer and Steph Inman, all three shot well,” continued Hower. “Their zone was tough. They never gave up. They’re going to get their share of wins down the road.”
“When you’re coaching against someone who has 700 wins, it’s not easy,” said Hayes of Hower. “They’re (the Beavers) well-coached. They’re disciplined. You can’t say enough about Patti’s program. They’re like a machine.”
Lebanon Catholic (53)
Section Four Standings