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Gormley and TCA deny Benton’s bombers, move to quarterfinals

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BETHLEHEM >> The Christian Academy cruised into the quarterfinal round of the girls’ PIAA Class A state tournament with an attention-grabbing 42-29 triumph over Benton, Wednesday at Freedom High.

Grace Gormley scored a game-high 16 points to go with eight rebounds, four assists and four steals, and Dejah Burley-Chambers added 10 points and a handful of bruising picks as the Crusaders (19-9) recorded the school’s second state victory in any sport.

“This one didn’t feel as big as the first one because we all felt a lot more confident in this game,” coach Jason Wilt said. “The matchup favored us tonight whereas in our first-round game, never having won before, that was a big hurdle. But this one I felt was a game where we needed to take care of business and I’m glad we did.

“The next hurdles will get very big. We’ll see what happens.”

The next hurdle is Lebanon Catholic, which routed Greenwood, 54-24 Wednesday, in the Class A quarterfinals Saturday at a time and site to be determined.

The Crusaders won’t be able to sneak up on any team the rest of the tournament, not after holding the Tigers (17-10) scoreless — yes, scoreless — in the second quarter.

Basically, it was all over but the math when the Crusaders, after giving up two quick baskets, scored the next 21 points to take a 21-4 lead into the intermission. Add the first 42 seconds of the second half and the Crusaders held the Tigers without a point for 15 minutes, 7 seconds.

Gormley and her teammates could see the frustration building in their opponent.

“Yeah, they were starting to get grabbier,” Gormley said. “You’ve just got to deal with it. That’s a hard feeling. It’s very strange for that to happen being that it’s the elite eight. But we prepared very hard for this team. I think our team did a really good job on defense. As they swung the ball, we were always on our man. We denied their shots a lot.”

Denial was the plan for Wilt, who watched enough video of Benton’s 47-31 romp over Lancaster Country Day School in the first round to realize you can’t let the Tigers shoot three-pointers.

“Our mindset was kind of to pressure them and take away the three-point line because I thought that’s where they had the advantage,” Wilt said. “Even when they were dumping it in to the big girl I was telling our girls not to help. I’d rather she makes a tough shot than give up an open three. And I thought we did a great job of that early on.”

The big girl Wilt spoke of was sophomore Emily Lockard, who scored 14 points, including the first nine of the second half to cut the deficit to eight points.

Lockard’s three-point play and Dana Kingbury’s second three-pointer pulled the Tigers to within 32-25 with 2:20 left.

But that’s when Gormley took over, scoring six points and contributing a key steal to turn the game into a wrap.

“She does everything,” Burley-Chambers said. “She’s a really good player. We lost her for the first couple games of the season but she came back. And she’s better than ever.”

It won’t be so easy from here on out for the Crusaders, who are bidding to become the school’s first state champion. Not the way they played defense against the Tigers.

“We came out ready to play today and I don’t think they were really expecting us to come out that hard,” Burley-Chambers said. “But we came out and conquered. They were a little shaken up. We just had to listen to our coach. He told us just to calm down.”

In addition to the tenacious defense, the Crusaders swung the ball to the open player in almost every set. If it wasn’t Burley-Chambers finishing, it was Britney Dike, who scored eight points and grabbed eight boards. Or, of course, Gormley.

“We are so pumped,” Gormley said. “Words can’t describe how proud I am of my team. We wanted this so bad and we did it. I’m so glad we’re here. We’re just so happy.”

Said Wilt, “It got a little sloppy in the second half. But it’s kind of tough to keep the foot on the pedal when it’s 21-4 at halftime. But I thought we had a good response once they made a little run. We put it away, eventually.”

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