BY JEFF FALK
DILLSBURG – Opportunites are meant to be savored. Now that the Lebanon Catholic girls’ basketball team has earned its, the Beavers expect to fully take advantage of it.
On Tuesday night at Northern York High School, the Beavers earned the right to play for their first District Three Class A championship in three years by blowing away Hershey Christian 84-41. Lebanon Catholic looked completely focused on its goal, started its semifinal contest strong and tallied a season-high for points behind a career-high from its point guard.
The triumph pushed Lebanon Catholic, the second-seed in the tournament, to 18-6. Standing in the way of the Beavers and their 17th District Three title is talented and top-seeded Steel-High.
The showdown, which has been in the making for most of the season, will go down on Thursday at 4:15 p.m. at Hershey’s Giant Center. What will be different about this trip to Hershey for the Beavers is that they will enter the title tilt as an underdog.
Hershey Christian fell to 18-4 on the year.
“We welcome the challenge of playing the defending state champs,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower. “We’re going to have a good practice tomorrow (Wednesday) and give it our best effort. But we think we can win.
“I think the fact that we know they’re (the Rollers) an excellent team, yeah it sort of drives us,” Hower added. “We have great guards and good inside players. I think we can compete for a district championship and we have a team that can go a couple of rounds into states.”
To get to another District championship game, Lebanon Catholic busted out an old tool – its patented 2-2-1 fullcourt pressure. From the outset, it was effective in creating the pace the Beavers were looking for, and ultimately led to easy buckets.
The effects of the fullcourt game didn’t fully kick in until the middle of the opening period, but when it did they were devastating. And it ultimately led to an early evening for the Catholic regulars.
Nursing a modest 10-7 edge, the Beaver embarked on a 30-4 journey over the next 10:52 to open an insurmountable 40-11 lead, on a Helene Reist basket 1:55 before the break. Included in that domination were runs of 10-0 and 14-0.
“We have not been a good pressing team all year,” said Hower. “I watched film and thought we could press them. But I told them (her players) that we have to make it work. We came out rusty on Saturday (in a win over Veritas Academy) and didn’t want to do it again tonight.
“It’s kind of a passive-aggressive press,” Hower continued. “We wanted to create tempo. But we won’t be pressing Steel-High.”
Senior leader Stevie Fortna poured in personal-high of 30 points, many of which came in a hot-shooting third quarter. Fortna knocked down a trio of three-point shots and went three-for-three at the foul line.
She was supported by 11 points from fellow senior guard Kate Pastal and 11 by junior Abby Shay – and scoring contributions from seven other sources.
“Stevie Fortna is an excellent floor leader,” said Hower. “She handles the ball very well and she leads by example. She’s like a coach on the floor. She knows when to push it and she knows when to pull it out. She was a little frustrated early. But she kept shooting and eventually the shots began to fall.
“This is a group that only the seniors have been here, and Stevie was the only starter,” Hower continued. “I want this experience for them, the thrill to get to Hershey. We focus on the section, but now we’re in our element. We were so tested in our league that it doesn’t matter who we see. We’re battle tested.
“Every team is different. And you don’t want to take it for granted. We’ve had an excellent season, no matter what happens. We stubbed our toe twice.”
Lebanon Catholic brought the mercy rule into play when Fortna nailed a three-pointer with 17 seconds left in the third quarter. That made it 70-29.
If they were substituting freely at that point, the Beavers then began to substitute liberally.
“We thought we were the better team, but you’ve got to play the game,” said Hower. “They (her players) watched them (the Warriors) on film, so we knew what to do.
“What I told them (her players) at halftime was that we didn’t want to get sloppy and create bad habits,” Hower added. “‘Don’t get lazy. Focus on playing the right way.'”