BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Because of its flexibility, the Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team can adapt its style of play to match that of any opponent. But when the Beavers are at their best is when they’re playing their own game.
On Saturday night at Hershey High School, Lebanon Catholic played its game in the second half and blew away Muncy 52-33. Fueled by a 26-point third-quarter, the Beavers shook off a first-half funk in their opening round game of the PIAA Class A postseason.
The win propelled now 20-6 Lebanon Catholic, the reigning District Three Class A champions, into Wednesday’s second round opposite District Two champ Old Forge. The site and time of the game has yet to be determined.
Muncy, the fourth-place finisher out of District Four, ended its year at 17-9.
“At halftime, I took Stevie (Fortna) and Kate (Pastal) aside and it was just us three,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower. “I told them, ‘It’s time to take over’. And Stevie did. And that’s how she does it. She looks to distribute for a while, and then when the game is on the line, she takes over.
“It’s always calm. I’m not a yeller,” Hower continued. “I told them, ‘Let’s play like we can.’ In the first half, we had a lot of turnovers, we missed some easy shots inside and we missed some foul shots. I was just happy with the way they (her players) responded. I thought we played very well in the second half.”
Forcing turnovers and getting out more in transition, Lebanon Catholic hit Muncy with a 12-2 burst to expand a three-point halftime margin to 36-23. Fortna had eight points in the run, including a pair of threes, and Erika Jackson took care of the other four points.
Then for good measure, the Beavers tallied ten of the last 12 points in the third frame to grow their lead to 46-28. Junior Abby Shay accounted for six of those LC points.
“We had so many turnovers in the first half,” said Fortna. “And Abby Shay was so upset because she missed some foul shots. We needed to pick it up because we knew the scoreboard was too close.”
“That’s the way we play,” said Hower of the extended minutes logged by her key players. “That’s something we talked about at the beginning of the season, being in good shape. I told them (her players) I’m not going to take them out. That’s why we condition so hard in practice.”
Despite all the turnovers and making just 12 of 22 free throws in the first half, Lebanon Catholic opened some modest early leads. The Beavers held Muncy without a point for the final 3:17 of the opening period and took a 10-9 lead on an inside maneuver from Shay.
Two free throws by Fortna 2:03 before the break gave Lebanon Catholic a 19-15 advantage.
“Perhaps it was the lay-off,” said Hower of her club’s nine-day break from action. “It was a crazy week. The seniors went on a trip and we had some illness.
“They (Shay and Jackson) did an excellent job on the boards, and they have been,” added Hower. “That’s one of the reasons we switched to a zone. Going zone helped us get some rebounds.”
Executing its delay/spread/keep-away offense to perfection, the Beavers held Muncy to a single point for the first 7:12 of the final period. During that time, Lebanon Catholic’s margin was ballooning to 23 points.
“I had a couple of tapes on them,” said Hower of the Indians. “That’s the beauty of the internet and some friendly reporters. We knew their strengths were their guards and number 42 inside. But I thought Erika did a really nice job on her.”
Fortna popped for an even 20 points, while Shay complemented her with 12. The Beavers finished 12-for-24 at the charity stripe, but outscored Muncy by eight points there.
“Traditionally, when you win the district you get the fourth-place team out of District Four,” said Hower. “There are no easy games from here on out. Not that this was an easy game. Muncy played hard and they didn’t back down.”
“We really want to keep this going,” said Fortna. “It’s one game at a time. But apparently Steel-High (which Lebanon Catholic beat in the District Three championship game) is looking for a rematch.”