HERSHEY>> Berks Catholic’s dream of a state championship came up one step shy, to an old familiar foe.
The Saints hung tough with Lancaster Catholic for a half on Wednesday before fading after the break, suffering a 51-36 defeat at the hands of the unbeaten Crusaders in the PIAA 4A championship game at Giant Center.
The state title clash was a reprise of the District 3 gold medal game on the same floor nearly a month earlier. Lancaster Catholic won that encounter 58-47 on March 1 to claim district gold.
Berks Catholic (25-6) was playing in its first state championship game Wednesday as that entity. BC head coach Bob Birmingham had led Holy Name to the 1993 2A championship game, a 57-55 loss to Cranberry, in a contest held at Hersheypark Arena across the lot from and nearly a decade before Giant Center was built. Holy Name merged with Reading Central Catholic in 2011 to form Berks Catholic.
“It’s like I told them in the locker room: ‘you were in the state championship’. A couple of weeks, months or years down the line, they’ll realize how special this was,” Birmingham said. “It’s a great group. we haven’t had a single issue all year with anybody on this team. They were a pleasure to coach and they wanted to be with each other. They’re going to have friendships that will last for a lifetime because of this and the way they bonded this year.”
Lancaster Catholic completed a perfect season, a 32-0 run past all competition, to garner its first state gold since 1996. The rematch with BC was a different beast than the D-3 title game — in that one, the Crusaders trailed entering the fourth quarter before rallying. This had none of that high drama.
Shortly after Molly Duncan’s buzzer-beating half-court heave found twine for BC to give the Saints an 11-10 lead after one, the Crusaders established control of the contest with a 10-0 run — the largest for either club — to forge ahead 21-13 and establish a cushion that held up somewhat comfortably for the rest of the game.
Berks Catholic needed to reignite the engines to start the third quarter after departing the floor down 29-21 at halftime, but it never happened. The Saints did not score for the first 3:29 of the second half; when Abbey Gaffney ended that dry spell with a layup, the Crusaders responded with an 8-0 run to push it to 40-26.
“I thought we got some good shots, too,” Birmingham said of the dry spell opening the second half. “First two possessions we got backdoor cuts and we fumbled chances. It was huge, because that can’t happen in the state championship against a team that’s 31-0.”
Lancaster Catholic closed its perfect campaign with a game befitting its suffocating MO. Every time BC got a nudge toward life, the Crusaders snuffed it out.
“The kids have a desire to win,” Lancaster Catholic head coach Charlie Detz said of his invincibles. “And they’ve had a desire not to let the girl next to them down. All the X’s and O’s and all of that other stuff is secondary when you have a team of kids who genuinely want to play for each other. Plus they’re so resilient and they have a lot poise.”
Kiki Jefferson was jet fuel for Lancaster Catholic. The potent junior forward scored 24 of her club’s 51 points — no teammate scored more than eight (Zaniah Banks) — and proved to be every bit the match-up headache she was down the stretch in that March 1 encounter. Duncan drew the assignment for BC and performed valiantly, at nearly five inches shorter, before running low on gas toward the end.
Dejah Terrell, Jefferson’s style mate in stature and game, struggled a bit during the first half — at one point with four points booked opposite two fouls. Terrell ended her high school career with 12 points, second behind Gaffney’s team-high 14.
Terrell was upbeat and appreciative of the experience despite not coming away with the championship.
“I’m going to remember all the good times and bad times,” she said,”but most of all I’m going to remember the bond we created as a team. I’m going to remember all the sweat and tears we put in in the gym. I’m happy right now being here and being able to talk to you guys. Win or lose, I’m still going to be a happy person. I’ll always give my best but today I didn’t feel I executed my game as well as I should have.”
Terrell was subbed out with 1:08 to go.
“Every game win or lose was a step closer to the ending,” Terrell said. “It kind of hurt at the end when I was getting subbed out because I knew this was the end.
“But it also felt good because we were in Hershey at the (Giant) Center in the state finals. There are 706 girls teams and we were one of the final 12. … Whether it’s bronze, silver or gold, it’s a trophy and that means we did something right.”
PIAA Girls’ 4A championship
at Giant Center, Hershey
Lancaster Catholic 51, Berks Catholic 36
BC – 11 10 7 8 — 36
LC – 10 19 13 9 — 51
M Leininger 2 0-0 5, Kirwan 0 0-0 0, Gaffney 5 4-7 14, Duncan 1 0-2 3, Terrell 4 4-5 12, Holt 1 0-0 2, S Leininger 0 0-0 0. Totals: 13 8-14 36.
3-pointers: 2 (Duncan, M Leininger)
Mills 1 0-0 2, Matters 1 0-0 2, Jaquis 1 0-0 3, Misel 2 3-4 7, Jefferson 8 6-7 24, Nadu 0 0-0 0, Cannon 0 0-0 0, Turner 1 0-0 2, Banks 3 2-2 8, Peris 1 0-0 3. Totals: 18 11-13 51.
3-pointers: 4 (Jefferson 2, Peris, Jaquis)