HAMBURG >> Our Lady of Lourdes couldn’t breathe on offense, as a blur of red jerseys swarmed to the ball at every turn.
Jenkintown full-court pressed its way to a stifling 37-31 victory over the Red Raiders Saturday in the PIAA-A quarterfinals, ensuring a much-anticipated rematch with defending State Champion Lebanon Catholic.
“We’ve wanted to get right back to where we left off last year. It’s finally a chance for us to get revenge on Lebanon Catholic,” said a happy Jennifer Kremp, the Drakes’ settling force. “We’ve worked so hard and it’s finally our chance to beat them.
“We’re just making the most of what we have left in the season. Hopefully we’ll win on Wednesday and make it to Saturday.”
Jenkintown fell by just four points to Lebanon last year in the state semis.
“Last year we realized how far we could actually go,” Kremp said. “We put in so much work in the offseason and during the season because it’s a really special group that we have.
“We’re all really close friends and we don’t want the season to end. We don’t even wanna think about the last time we’re playing together.”
Saturday provided the rubber match between the Drakes and Red Raiders. The two perennial playoff powers had split the two previous state contests in 2016 and 2017.
The Red Raiders (18-10) clawed to within 31-26 in the fourth, but Kremp calmly sank a pair of free throws to work the margin back up to seven.
After Selina Albert made one of two foul shots for Lourdes, Jenkintown worked the ball around until Mia Kolb popped free down the lane, driving it in to make it a 35-27 lead with just a minute to go, locking it up for the District One Champs.
Kremp scored eight of her game-high 16 points in the fourth.
“You can see, when Jen’s on the court, they look to her,” said Jenkintown coach Jim Romano, who has guided the Drakes back to the state’s final four for the second year in a row. “You just need that one player that’s gonna settle things down, make a big shot.”
Kremp hit a three early in the fourth to widen the margin to 10 and help make it a smooth landing for the Drakes. Lourdes did not have as favorable a time. Jenkintown’s press forced turnovers in bunches.
“Their kids are pretty darn quick,” Red Raiders coach Michael A. Klembara said of the Drakes, “and that concerned me from the very beginning.”
“They’re all basically the same size, same build, same quickness, long arms,” Romano said of his squad, “so you have to have that first (to make the press work), and then second you have to have them buy into it.
“And they’ve been playing this way since they were freshmen and sophomores. And there’s not really any offensive scheme to break that because we’ve seen so many.”
Jenkintown allowed Lourdes just three field goals in what was a frustrating second half for the District Four Champions. The Red Raiders’ biggest second-half weapon wound up being the free-throw shooting of Lilly Bickel, who made 9-of-10 for her team-high 11 points.
Sisters Mia and Natalie Kolb smothered Lourdes’ two best ball handlers, providing Jenkintown a substantial edge.
“They have a lot of confidence in their play, espcially on a big stage like this,” Romano said of his team. “There’s no substitute for experience.”
Tremendous finishers, Jenkintown shot close to 50 percent in the second half to put it away.
Defense ruled early, as the Drakes had to wait four minutes for their first points of the afternoon, a bucket in transition by Kremp.
“It was a slow start and we knew Lourdes was coming for us,” Kremp said. “They’re well-coached and have a ton of good players. We knew it was gonna be a great game.”
Kremp got a three to fall moments later, then hit an open jumper on the next trip down to put the Drakes ahead for the first time, 7-6.
The run continued.
Jenkintown started racking up takeaways, baskets by Mia Kolb and Caroline Arena the result, pushing Jenkintown’s lead to 12-6 at the end of the first quarter.
When Amelia Mulvaney scored on a rebound early in the second, Jenkintown’s 13-0 run had provided a 15-6 lead.
Good defense at the other end limited Lourdes to a free throw by Selina Albert and a three by Sierra Coleman, and Jenkintown went into the break ahead 15-10.
The Drakes didn’t allow Lourdes a field goal in the third and when Jenkintown moved the ball around the perimeter, finding Kolb for an open three, the lead was into double digits.
One more surge in the fourth and the Drakes were headed to the semis.
“We’re just gonna work so hard, study (Lebanon Catholic),” Kremp said, “and just work.”
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