BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – Now this bears repeating: It truly is one of the most incredible feats in the history of Lebanon County sports.
Twenty-one appearances in the District Three title game, in Patti Hower’s 37 years of coaching. And now 17 championships.
Every single one of them has been special. And they never, ever, get old.
On Thursday evening at Giant Center, a brand-new crop of Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball players performed like 16 teams that had come before them, as the Beavers added to their record-number of District Three championships with an overwhelming 40-20 triumph over Christian School of York. Feeding off their active 2-3 zone, the Beavers outscored the Crusaders 33-14 over the final 28 minutes of action, and limited Christian School of York to a mere four points over the second half.
Lebanon Catholic’s first district championship since 2012 came a year after the Beavers had not qualified for the postseason for the first time in Hower’s long tenure as head coach, a campaign of struggle that shook the very foundation of the program. And the effort put forth by top-seeded Lebanon Catholic yesterday, with four freshmen on the floor, seemed to signal that 2015 won’t be the Beavers’ last District Three championship.
In 87 all-time District Three Class A playoff games, the Beavers are a sparkling 68-19.
As the District Three champs, Lebanon Catholic, now 17-9 overall, will open play in the PIAA Class A postseason next Saturday, March 7, at a site not too far from home. Christian School of York, the number-two seed, fell to 20-7 on the year.
“It’s a tradition we feel like we have to live up to,” said Hower. “We feel like we’re in our element. We feel comfortable playing against schools our size. Every group is special. Every player who goes through Lebanon Catholic, I want them to get to Giant Center or Hersheypark Arena and experience this. I know we’re young, but I thought the freshman exhibited a sense of urgency when the district tournament started. Now they know what it’s like. They won this as freshmen.
“It’s always our goal,” Hower continued. “Midway through the season, you start looking at other Class A scores. I thought it would come down to the four seeds. This season has been great because we didn’t lose to anyone we should’ve beaten. We beat the teams we should’ve beat. I thought that was going to help us somewhere.”
“It’s crazy, because we always wanted to come and play games at Giant Center,” said Beaver freshman point guard Mariah Sholly. “Every time I went past the trophy case at school, it was like, ‘we need to get one of those’. It just means so much. We wanted to win this game for Mrs. Hower because she’s such a good coach. It’s just so exciting being a freshman and being a part of this.”
It may have been back-to-back Sholly three-pointers in middle of the initital period which ignited the Beavers. They came at a time when Lebanon Catholic was nursing a 7-6 edge.
Then Lebanon Catholic closed out the first period with a Monica Pastal lay-in and a couple of free throws from Celine Mars to open a 17-8 margin.
“We borrowed a Winston Churchill quote from our 1995 state championship team,” said Hower. ” ‘Give me the tools, and I will finish the job’. We had the tools. We just had to finish the job. They (her players) work hard. But they had the tradition behind them.
“Oh yeah, I knew I had a nice freshmen group at the beginning of the season,” Hower added. “But a lot of what we completed today was due to our players last year. They got us through last year. It was inspiring for me to work with these kids. But it was tiring, because it was so much teaching. The freshmen didn’t enjoy a lot of success on the lower levels, so they had to learn how to win.”
“I had to keep my head and keep encouraging my teammates,” said Sholly. “It was like, ‘I’m feeling it. Hey, they aren’t guarding me. I’ve got to shoot it.’
“We came out pretty strong because we knew how many people were watching this,” added Sholly. “We knew how important it was.”
The Beavers held the Crusaders scoreless for the first portion of the second stanza, and pushed their advantage to 21-8 on a jumper from Hannah Callihan and inside move by Hayley Witmer.
“I thought our defense was awesome,” said Hower. “They (the Crusaders) only had four points in the second half. And I thought we played it (the zone) good. We really spread them out. Once we did, they were out of their range. I thought they looked tentative.
“We played a lot of zone this year – maybe 70 percent of the time – because of a lack of depth,” continued Hower. “I’ve changed over the years, but I think our zone is pretty good. We’ve played it a lot.”
“I thought we caused them (the Crusaders) to turn it over a lot,” said Sholly. “We played an active zone and it was hard to pass around it.’
Lebanon Catholic’s top six of Witmer, Pastal, Mars, Sholly, Callihan and Neesha Pierre all scored between five and eight points. The Beavers surrendered only five two-point field goals.
“Mariah hit big shots early,” said Hower. “She missed some lay-ups because we went too fast. Hannah Callihan hit some big shots off the bench. They’ve started to be like not-freshmen. They had to get the Giant Center out of their systems.
“Mariah plays a lot of AAU basketball,” Hower continued. “Neesha and Celine are soccer players, but everything I have (over the summer) they don’t miss. Maybe this will inspire them to do more basketball things.”
Thanks to a Witmer lay-up early in the third quarter, the Beavers were up the same eight points they were at halftime. But Lebanon Catholic held York Christian scoreless for a devastating 13:38 spell to not only clinch the outcome, but also place an exclamation point on it.
The Beavers tallied 14 unanswered points and opened a 40-18 bulge, with 3:25 to go, on an inside bucket by Witmer. Witmer collected a total of four points in the run, while Pierre counted six and Pastal and Mars had two apiece.
“I thought they did a pretty good job of dealing with their emotions,” said Hower of her troops. “I thought they handled the mystique of the Giant Center. We’re best in transition, and that’s what we got out of our zone.”
With 2:08 to go, Hower summoned Witmer and Pastal to the bench for a final time, amid raucous appreciation from the Beaver faithful. During a timeout seconds later, Sholly, Mars and Pierre received a similar recognition.
“I was so excited,” said Sholly. “I knew we had to play hard. We had to play well for the seniors.
“This was our goal for the whole season, and to make it to states,” continued Sholly. “At the beginning of the season, it was like, ‘It’s going to be a long year.’ But we came together and played as a team.”
Christian School of York (20)
Christian School of York
2014-15 Lebanon Catholic Results
@Lancaster County Christian
|5:30 PM||W 62-23|
|6:00 PM||W 54-26|
|7:30 PM||L 37-57|
|7:30 PM||L 33-50|
|7:30 PM||L 36-72|
|7:30 PM||W 53-43|
|6:00 PM||W 52-22|
|7:30 PM||L 55-80|
|7:30 PM||L 45-53|
|6:00 PM||W 45-42|
|7:30 PM||W 51-23|
West Shore Christian
|6:00 PM||W 54-16|
|7:30 PM||W 54-41|
|7:30 PM||W 52-38|
|7:30 PM||L 32-51|
|7:30 PM||W 38-36|
|7:30 PM||L 43-60|
|7:30 PM||W 39-38|
|7:30 PM||L 31-66|
|7:30 PM||W 47-38|
|7:30 PM||W 36-31|
|7:30 PM||W 75-50|
|7:00 PM||L 46-67|
|11:00 AM||W 50-13|
|7:30 PM||W 53-45|
Christian School of York
|4:30 PM||W 40-20|
LEBANON COUNTY DISTRICT THREE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Cedar Crest: None.
Lebanon: 1936 (single class), 1940 (A*).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 2000, 2005, 2006, 2013
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 1949 (B*), 1957 (B*), 1996 (AAA)
Cedar Crest: 1976 (AAA), 1991 (AAAA), 1994 (AAAA), 2003 (AAAA).
Elco: 1997 (AA), 1999 (AAA), 2001 (AAA).
Lebanon: 1980 (AAA).
Lebanon Catholic: (All A) 1980, 1989, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012, 20015
Northern Lebanon: None.
Palmyra: 2013 (AAA)