BY JEFF FALK
ANNVILLE – First they wore thin. Then they wore down. And eventually, they wore out.
Player defections and a short bench ultimately took its toll on the Annville-Cleona girls’ basketball team on Friday night, during a 45-41 loss to Camp Hill in a quarterfinal game of the District Three Class AA playoffs. It eerily mirrored how the regular season unfolded for the Little Dutchmen.
With just seven players, Annville-Cleona battled fatigue and foul difficulties during a decisive stretch of the final period. Using a 2-2-1 press and ten consecutive points, Camp Hill turned a dead-locked score with four minutes to play into a 42-32 lead.
Though they didn’t quit, the depleted Little Dutchmen never recovered.
Annville-Cleona, which started the season on fire, ended it with a 13-10 overall mark. Along the way, the Little Dutchmen lost three players – from an already thin contingent – for various reasons.
“That (the player defections) has something to do with it,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jamie Podjed of her team’s late-season difficulties. “When you lose kids, it’s a downer on the girls who are left. It hurts the girls in practice. If you can’t scrimmage, you can’t simulate game situations.
“I told them, ‘You guys have to realize what you did’,” Podjed added. “It’s a long season. They stuck it out. At the end, they were physically worn down. But we made it to the second round of districts.”
During the middle of the fourth quarter, Annville-Cleona appeared physically and mentally drained. Still, the Little Dutchmen had enough energy to pull within 42-39 on a three-pointer by Elaina Wanamaker.
Then after the Lions answered with a pair of free throws five seconds later, Wanamaker stroked a pair of charity tosses of her own to make it 44-41 with 16 ticks left. But it would prove to A-C’s last gasp, literally and figuratively.
“When they threw that 2-2-1 press at us, we panicked and started throwing the ball away,” said Podjed. “We lost our composure. That was the game-changer. We allowed them to get some steals and easy baskets. We battled back, but it was too late.
“I’m sure it wore us down,” Podjed continued. “They were pressing us. We told them (her players) to catch their breath on offense. But when they went to the 2-2-1 we couldn’t rest.”
The Little Dutchmen led for a good portion of the third and fourth quarters, including 31-27 on a jumper from Alex Siebecker with 5:31 to go. Alex’s big sister Tori had given A-C a 20-18 margin by nailing a trey to open the second half.
“I told the girls that this was bittersweet,” said Podjed. “That’s been my group for two years. It’s sad to see the senior go. They’re like my first group.”
“We’re still a work in progress, but we’re going forward,” continued Podjed. “We’ve got to get the kids to come out. But we met some of the goals we set at the beginning of the season. We wanted to get five more wins that we did last year, and that’s exactly what we did.”
All seven of the Little Dutchmen who played scored, including A. Siebecker, who recoreded 11 points. A-C connected for a total of nine field goals.
“We weren’t running our offense in the third quarter,” said Podjed. “In the second quarter we were getting some transition baskets. But in the third quarter we got away from it.
“It’s something we did in the second half of the season,” Podjed continued. “When they (her players) went bad we tended to rush shots. We didn’t execute.”
Annville-Cleona held Camp Hill without a point for a stretch of 4:02 at the end of the first half, during which it turned a tie score into a 17-13 edge. Barb Inman stroked a jumper and Elaina Wanamaker got inside for a deuce.
Camp Hill also didn’t score for the final 3:55 of the third period, and an A. Siebecker bucket and a pair of free thows by Wanamaker gave the Little Dutchmen a 28-26 heading to the top of the stretch.