BY JEFF FALK
DILLSBURG – Can a team win a championship without playing defense?
Can the Lebanon Catholic boys’ basketball team consider 2013-14 a success without a district championship?
The answer to both those questions are the same.
On Monday night at Northern York, in the semifinals of the District Three Class A playoffs, Lebanon Catholic’s inability to defend played a vital role in its 71-53 loss to New Hope Academy. The Mighty Ants tallied 41 points in the first half alone and collected a total of 53 points from the free throw line and in.
The loss dashed Lebanon Catholic’s hopes of repeating last season’s District Three Class A title. The top-seeded Beavers, who slipped to 16-8 on the year, will play for third place in the tournament on Thursday at a site and time to be announced, against third-seeded Greenwood.
Lebanon Catholic had already qualified for the PIAA postseason and will open play in that tournament on Friday, March 7.
Number-four seeded New Hope, which fell to Lebanon Catholic in last year’s semifinals, will carry a 13-9 mark into Friday’s District Three Class A title tilt with Mount Calvary.
“I don’t know,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack, when asked if the Beavers’ campaign can be considered a success with a district title. “If you give me time to think about it, I’d say ‘yes’, because this a great group of kids. But if you asked me now I’d say ‘no’, because we put all those eggs in one basket. It (not winning one) takes something away from it.
“We played our worst game of the year,” Clentimack continued. “We picked the worst time to play our worst game of the year. What’s been happening over the last month, we don’t defend. We can’t stop anybody off the dribble. We’ve been outscoring people.”
In a nut shell, the Beavers fell behind the athletic Ants early and just couldn’t get enough stops to get back into it. Inefficient on offense, Lebanon Catholic was also plagued by turnovers.
With New Hope nursing a 15-14 edge late in the opening quarter, the Ants outscored Lebanon Catholic 8-2 over the final two minutes of the stanza to take a 23-16 margin to the second. Then New Hope began the second period on an 11-2 run to extend its lead to 34-19.
Although the Beavers responded with an Alex Frattaroli-Anthony Pletz-led 9-2 spurt that cut their deficit to eight, Lebanon Catholic never fully recovered.
“We try to play at a fast pace,” said Clentimack. “But I thought were a little tentative at the start. We turned the ball over a couple of times, and then we didn’t attack. But you’ve got to get those stops defensively to get on runs. They (the Ants) would just beat us off the dribble.
“I thought we played better defense earlier in the season,” added Clentimack. “But who knows why it went South. No matter how much we preach, they (his players) think we’re going to outscore people. I thought we got into that mindset, and couldn’t get out of it.”
Lebanon Catholic got a lay-in from John Groh to start the second half and pulled within 41-35. Two minutes later, consecutive lay-ups from Beavers Anthony Thomas and Frattaroli sliced New Hope’s advantage to 43-39.
But by the start of the fourth, New Hope had rebuilt its advantage to double figures. The Mighty Ants outscored the Beavers 17-9 over the last eight minutes of action.
“I was confident coming in,” said Clentimack. “I thought the kids were confident too. But I knew it was going to be tough. We got down early. They made some shots, and they got the lead.
“Yeah, they’re (the Ants) athletic, but they also have some skills,” continued Clentimack. “One of their downfalls was their shooting from the outside. The last two times we played them, we went zone, and we don’t play zone. They can put the ball in the basket.”
The Beavers scored 11 seconds into the contest, courtesy of a three-point play from Frattaroli. Lebanon Catholic also assumed a 10-9 lead on a three-pointer by Pletz with 3:17 left in the first period, but that would be its last.
“There’s nothing I can say to the kids to make them feel better,” said Clentimack. “We’ve been in this game (district semifinal) seven times, won four and now lost three. But in the consolation game, we’ve never lost. We’re not playing at Giant Center, but we’re putting on uniforms.”
Frattaroli poured in a team-high 15 points for the Beavers, while Pletz and Thomas both popped for ten. The Beavers had few answers for New Hope’s Kareem Oden, who went for 22.
“We talked about giving him a step,” said Clentimack of Oden. “He wants to get to the rim. We said, ‘Give him the jump shot.’
“I knew they (the Ants) were going to play a lot of guys,” Clentimack added. “I didn’t think it would be a factor. What we do, we don’t do with a lot of guys. We’re well conditioned. We don’t worry about teams wearing us out.”