BY JEFF FALK
The Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team is firmly focused on the championship of the Lebanon High Holiday Tournament. It might be the perfect preview of coming attractions.
On Wednesday night, Lebanon Catholic had its way with Cocalico in the opening round of the Cedars’ annual hoops festival. Despite being just a tick off of their game, the Beavers rolled into Thursday’s title tilt with a 47-32 triumph over the Eagles.
At 6-1 overall, Lebanon Catholic is off to one of the best starts in its storied history. At 7:30 p.m., the Beavers will look to build upon it when it meets Elco, which edged Lebanon 37-35 in the opposite opener.
With the setback, Cocalico is now 2-5 on the year.
“Right now, we’re looking to win the section (Four of the Lancaster-Lebanon League),” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower, when asked about ultimate goals for the season. “After league play, we’ll look at districts. We have our eye on Steel-High (the perceived Class A favorite in District Three) a little. I think we’d like to have a shot at them.
“Right now, we need to enjoy this,” Hower continued. “We’re on a nice little run right now. When we get back in league play, we can compete. We’re figuring ourselves out and it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re going to have a pretty good season.’ And hopefully that’s going to make us work a little harder in practice.”
Lebanon Catholic led for a majority of the evening, and was in control for most of it. The only storm the Beavers were forced to weather came in the third quarter.
Cocalico pieced together an 11-0 spurt to trim Catholic’s 29-13 advantage down to seven points. But a pair of free throws from senior point guard Stevie Fortna stemmed the tide and then the Beavers re-asserted themselves in the final stanza.
Lebanon Catholic notched the first six points of the fourth period – on three points from Abby Shay and a three-pointer by Fortna – to push the lead back to 37-26.
“I didn’t like our body language,” said Hower. “Our body language dictated how we played – sluggish. We never showed the enthusiasm. I’m not sure why. Maybe because Cocalico isn’t a rival. But we played well defensively.
“There was a string of years where we won it (the championship of the event),” continued Hower. “But we haven’t won it in a while. It’s been at least three years. It’s a nice tournament because there’s a lot of local teams and a lot of rivalries.”
Shay, an emerging inside presence, paced the Beavers with 18 points. Fortna complimented her with 11 points and a solid floor game.
“She actually missed practice yesterday because she was under the weather,” said Hower of Shay. “I told her during a time out, ‘They can’t stop you. Get to the boards.’ She can rebound. She’s an excellent rebounder and she has a nice turn-around jumper.
“I think Abby Shay is averaging about nine (points) per game,” Hower added. “So it’s nice to have three players (with Fortna and Kate Pastal) averaging around double figures, and it’s nice to have an inside threat. You have to respect her (Shay) in there.
“Everyone knows their roles. A player like Abby Schrum starts and she’s the most positive player on the bench. We have a good solid seven, and some can play guard and forward.”
With Shay netting six points, Lebanon Catholic established a little working margin by opening a 10-8 first-quarter edge. Then Shay tallied eight points during a second period in which the Beavers pushed their advantage to 27-13.
“I’ll give Cocalico credit,” said Hower. “They’re pretty quick. We didn’t get a lot of easy stuff. Defensively, we rebounded well. But Ericka Jackson and Abby Shay weren’t getting those second shots.”