DOWNINGTOWN >> For the Jenkintown girls basketball team, a week of snow and uncertainty ended underneath a flurry of Hershey kisses.
Ashley Kremp’s pressure-packed free throws fell through clean, Lebanon Catholic missed a desperation shot at the other end, and the Drakes danced at midcourt in huddled celebration, their 50-46 victory at packed and raucous Downingtown West High sending them to the PIAA-A State Final.
“They’re unbelievable girls, man,” said Jenkintown coach Jim Romano. “They put a lot of time in their play.
“They didn’t back down. They took Lebanon Catholic’s run. (LC is the defending) state champs and you knew they weren’t gonna go down lightly.”
The victory advances the Drakes to their first state championship game, Tuesday at 12 noon at the Giant Center in Hershey to take on District Six Champion Juniata Valley.
“Just getting there was half the journey,” said a smiling Ashley Kremp, who buried four threes to help Jenkintown never lose control of this tightly-contested semifinal rematch. “So now we just have to win it, and go out super hard. It would be amazing.”
“We’ve dreamt of this since last year,” said Mia Kolb, her 15 points a team high in the win Saturday. “We can’t wait.”
Jenkintown blew out to a 14-point lead in the second quarter then withstood a rally worthy of a defending state champion. Lebanon Catholic got past Jenkintown, 41-37, in last year’s semis but this time, the Drakes were a year older, a year more seasoned, and hungry.
“Throughout our area, we’re maybe a little bit of Rodney Dangerfield. You never get any respect. But I think they earned it tonight,” Romano said of his squad. “I think they earned the respect of everybody in the state and especially our area, and we’re gonna represent District One and Jenkintown the best we can on Tuesday.”
Sealing the Deal
The Beavers took their only lead of the game on a layup by Neesha Pierre (12 pts), making it 34-33 late in the third.
Kolb countered at the other end, bursting to the basket to put Jenkintown back up, 35-34, as the game went huffing and puffing into the fourth.
Jennifer Kremp delivered in style, nailing a three to extend the margin to 38-34. Jenkintown would lead the entire fourth, with Lebanon Catholic clawing to within a single point on two different occasions.
Jasmine Turner hit an open three for the Beavers, making it 47-46 with 18 seconds to play.
Jennifer Kremp made the first of two free-throw attempts to extend it to 48-46, and then Caroline Arena came up with a rebound on the second, and Ashley Kremp was fouled and sent to the line with seven seconds left.
She made both, providing a safe and secure four-point lead. Lebanon Catholic got a three-point shot off but the victory was cemented for the Drakes.
The strong gathering of Jenkintown fans erupted, some tossing Hershey kisses in celebration as the Drakes danced their way to the final.
A tight-knit group — powered in part by two sets of twin sisters — was headed to the big game.
“I live with Ashley and We just have this chemistry. We fight all the time,” Jennifer Kremp said with a laugh, “and we get along too. So having that chemistry on the court, and the same with Nat and Mia (Kolb), it’s just a really special thing that we have and we use that to our advantage.”
Jennifer Kremp’s foul shooting was pivotal. She made six of eight in the fourth quarter, turning a 43-42 lead into 45-42 with a minute to go and working a 45-43 edge into a 47-43 margin with 39 seconds left.
“How much pressure is put on that? It’s just an unbelievable situation for her, but she’s a senior, she’s one of our leaders and we wouldn’t want anyone else on that line,” Romano said.
“We practice them so much every day, and (Romano) really stresses that. So when it’s actually in a real-game situation, I really just need to compose myself before I get the ball,” Jennifer Kremp said.
“It’s just like, ‘I wanna win and so does my team.’ I wanna lead our team there and everybody wants to be there together. So it’s really a motivational thing when I’m on the line.”
Jenkintown’s defense had Lebanon Catholic rattled from the start.
With the Drakes blanketing Pierre and Hill, the Beavers (25-7) struggled to finish at the hoop while Jenkintown gained the early advantage.
Kolb’s underhanded scoop put the Drakes in front and Kolb scored again moments later to boost the lead to 4-0.
“If it was open, you just had to keep driving it,” Kolb said.
Jenkintown kept Lebanon Catholic scoreless the first four minutes of the contest while Ashley Kremp’s (14 pts) outside shot began to heat up.
The senior hit a trio of threes in the first half, the first of which spiked the margin to 7-2. Kolb would score six in the opening quarter, pushing Jenkintown to a 13-6 advantage after one.
Jenkintown’s defense continued to smother Pierre and Hill, who could not find open trips to the basket. Meanwhile, the Drakes were able to work the ball around and find open shots, two of which were buried from three-point range by Ashley Kremp, giving Jenkintown its biggest lead thus far at 20-6.
“I worked on my shot for years, so it really makes me feel good that I can make them in crunch-time situations,” she said.
“I’m not really a big three-ball guy. I’m from the old school and getting it to the post, but these girls have changed my mind,” Romano said with a grin. “Ashley coming up and hitting a couple big threes, she’s just unbelievable.
“Mia, taking the ball to the hoop and being aggressive (was key).”
Jenkintown twice led by 14 in the second quarter, with Jennifer Kremp (14 pts) climaxing a fast break with a bucket and three-point play.
Lebanon Catholic was able to put together a 7-0 run to close it tighter. Pierre went 4-of-4 from the line and Taylor Bossert hit a three to help get the Beavers within 24-17.
But Jennifer Kremp was again able to draw a foul and get to the foul line, hitting both to shove momentum back into the Drakes’ favor, up 26-17 at the break.
Lebanon Catholic switched to a 3-2 zone and gave Jenkintown some problems, but not enough to keep the Drakes from their destination.
“We knew they would go on a run,” Jennifer Kremp said. “We just had to stop the bleeding any way we could.”
Climbing the Mountain
Saturday marked the 120th game that Romano had coached the current Jenkintown seniors, and it was the most satisfying.
The game originally scheduled for Tuesday, Saturday arrived with great anticipation.
“This week with the snow, playing and not playing, it was really, really tough on the girls,” the coach said. “Jenkintown’s only one mile square so the kids can walk to school. I was able to get into the gym and it was a lot of practice time this week. A lot of music. We played a lot of music this week…”