ANNVILLE – Two weeks ago, the least of the Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team’s annual goals seemed unattainable and beyond its grasp. Now, qualifying for states seems like a reasonable, realistic and reachable objective.
On Wednesday night, the demeanor responsible for the Beavers’ renewed optimism helped them dismiss rival Annville-Cleona 47-42. Displaying a new-found mental toughness, Lebanon Catholic met every challenge thrown at it by the Little Dutchmen down the stretch.
The Beavers got it done in crunch time with crucial defensive stops, team work and by nailing their free throws.
With both clubs eyeing the same Section Four spot in the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs, Lebanon Catholic is now 7-5 overall and 3-4 in the circuit. Annville-Cleona slipped to 6-5 on the season and 4-3 in the section.
“I think it’s big for them,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower of her charges. “Up until this point, they’ve questioned themselves. We had a good year last year. We have a lot of hype to live up to. But I told them (her players) they just need to be this year’s team.
“Every game, besides Lancaster Catholic, from here on out, is winnable for us,” Hower continued. “Annville’s in the same boat. It’s (second-place) going to come down to who’s having a good night.
“It’s an improvement,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jamie Walborn of her team’s overall mark. “We’re going in the right direction. We’re trying to get their (her players’) mindset to change. We were in fourth place in the section last year. We want to hang around second.
“I’m pleased with our record,” continued Walborn. “I’m disappointed we lost tonight, but we’re on the right track. I’d like to make leagues.”
The contest, between a pair of opponents who know each other very well, was a back-and-forth, defensive struggle of a chess match most of the way.
Nursing a 43-42 edge, the Beavers won it with four free throws from senior Abby Shay and by holding the Little Dutchmen without a point over the final 1:13. In fact, Lebanon Catholic led the entire fourth quarter, after Holly Marinkov had opened the stanza with a three-ball and Catherine Gross had converted a lay-in to make it 37-29.
After three-pointers from Elaina Wanamaker and Alex Siebecker kept the Annville-Cleona side close, Little Dutchman Kayla Parks’ bucket pulled her team within 43-42 late.
“I was really happy with the way they (her players) responded,” said Hower. “I did not see panic in their faces. They came up with some key loose balls.
“We knew that Wanamaker and Siebecker were going to hit their 3s,” Hower added. “But as long as we had a four-point lead, we felt OK.”
“The fourth quarter was better, but we’re not mentally tough,” said Walborn. “If we don’t come out right away and hit shots, it’s hard to get them (her players) going. What we have to do is play defense and get easy shots. When they (the Beavers) went 2-3 zone, we didn’t execute. We weren’t able to catch and shoot cleanly.
“We’re still working on them (her players) getting that winning attitude,” continued Walborn. “We looked petrified tonight. What they (the Beavers) did to us defensively tonight we haven’t seen yet. They (the Beavers) sagged off of us and we couldn’t drive to the basket. But they (her players) believed they could win.”
A three-point field goal from Marinkov staked Lebanon Catholic to a 31-27 lead late in the third quarter. But before the period was out, Parks had pulled the Little Dutchmen to within a deuce with a jumper.
“‘Listless’ that’s our big word right now,” said Hower. “We’ve talked about it. People in the stands have noticed it. I told them (her players) that we go as our point guard goes.
“We’ve been up and down,” Hower continued. “But Abby’s (Shay) going to be consistent. The other girls have been down. But the last couple of games, Holly’s been more consistent.”
“We were playing from behind and we were not making shots,” said Walborn. “We weren’t taking what the defense was giving us. They (the Beavers) started out in man (-to-man) in the second half and then they went zone. But the bottom line was we didn’t make shots and we didn’t shut down players.”
One of the players Annville-Cleona experienced difficulties containing was the active Shay. In addition to a boat-load of caroms, Shay notched a game-high 19 points on 15-for-17 free throwing. Marinkov ably complemented her with 13 points.
Parks went for 15 A-C points, while Wanamaker tossed in 12. Lebanon Catholic managed only six two-point baskets, but outscored Annville-Cleona by ten points at the stripe and by nine points from beyond the arc.
“We’ve been working very hard on her foul shots,” said Hower of Shay. “Sometimes it’s in her head. She needs confidence. She needs to slow it down.
“This is not an easy place to shoot,” Hower added. “But we felt like we needed to get her (Shay) the ball. She took advantage of the opportunities she got. She has been a terror on the boards. If it’s close, she’ll get it. She’s just outstanding on the boards.”
“I think I know them pretty well,” said Walborn of the Beavers. “Going into the game, we knew what they could do, and we allowed them to do it. We wanted to keep Abby Shay off the boards. And we didn’t want to put her on the foul line. She was the difference in the game.
“Holly (Marinkov) hit some big shots,” added Walborn. “Helene (Reist) does a nice job of getting the ball up the floor. That was our thing going into the game – Abby Shay is going to work the boards. We just have to be able to shut down the other kids. We kind of broke down the games they (the Beavers) were in, and it was because of her (Shay) and the three-point shots.”
A three-point play by Shay and a three-point shot by Marinkov staked Lebanon Catholic to an early 6-0 lead. But the Little Dutchmen responded with a 10-1 run capped by Siebecker jumper.
“We were kind of letting Parks go at times,” said Hower. “We were a little more concerned with Wanamaker and Siebecker. But I think they’ve (the Little Dutchmen) got a nice nucleus. They’ve got ballhandlers, they’ve got shooters. They have a nice team.”
“Yeah, they (the Beavers) had a lot of turnovers in the first half, and then we came down and turned it over ourselves,” Walborn said. “We don’t do a good job of pushing the ball up the floor. But they’re (the Beavers) in the same position. They don’t bring a lot off the bench.”